After Massage School: Choosing a Career Path

Choosing a Career Path

Massage Schools Guide guest author, Kathy Gruver, provides an overview of the various options and work environments available to to new massage school graduates. She presents real world scenarios including the positives and negatives. This is very useful and utterly practical information from a massage pro.

After you graduate from massage school, you’re ready to step out into the world of employment. Some students know from the get go what their objective is and others struggle to find their place in the massage world. Here are a few options to explore as you expand your massage resume and find your niche.

Before trying to narrow down your job options, my advice is to look back through your training and see what modalities you enjoyed most. If you liked Swedish and hot stone, then a spa is more likely to thrill you than a physical therapy office.

On the other hand if anatomy was your best subject and you loved learning about trigger point therapy then perhaps a PT office or chiropractic clinic might be more appropriate for you. Here is a breakdown of the most common massage employers.


When you think of massage, a spa definitely comes to mind. Whether it’s a private spa or one contained in a hotel or resort, the structure is pretty much the same. Most will require insurance, licensing, and an interview/hands on demonstration. The payment structure of spas can vary from being on-call (showing up only when needed) or having set hours where you wait at the facility for someone to need you. When quoted what you will be paid, clarify what they are paying you for.

Most spas only pay for hands on time and the time you sit and wait will either be unpaid or at a drastically reduced rate, like minimum wage. Also, some establishments will expect you to do other duties when not massaging like fold towels, clean and stock supplies.

Clarify during the interview the payment structure and what is expected of you. If it’s a situation where multiple therapists are waiting for work, you might want to find out about how they pick the therapist for the client. Is it seniority? Determined by shift time? Skill level? The last thing you want is to sit around a room, making minimum wage and not ever getting you hands on someone.


  • Spas tend to be pricey, but the percentage that goes to the therapist can be low.
  • You might be sitting around for work.
  • Possibly a demanding clientele (Of course, that can happen anywhere).
  • Strict rules such as no talking to the client or having to follow a very structured massage routine.


  • The room, table, lotion, etc is provided.
  • Good tips and steady work possible.

Medical Practice

The other end of the spectrum is a physical therapy or chiropractor’s office. You need to have a good grasp of skills to work in this environment, knowledge of basic medical terms/SOAP notes, etc and want to help people through their ailment or disability. Some offices will hire you fulltime and your tasks may involve note taking, prepping a patient with hot packs, e-stim, ultrasound, etc. or you may be called in to treat specific patients.

This type of work requires a certain personality as sometimes you are dealing with people in a great deal of pain. It’s also important that you take direction well as oftentimes you’ll be working directly under a doctor or therapist. This work can be extraordinarily rewarding and may get to work with different populations such as athletes, the elderly or children.


  • Pay is normally pretty low.
  • Dealing with people in pain can be trying.
  • Paperwork such as insurance forms and note taking.


  • Satisfaction of helping people recover.
  • Increased knowledge of the body and medical issues.

Massage Franchise/Chain

The newest outlets for massage are the national chain or shopping mall massage businesses. These are popping up all over the country and though they are being met with mixed feelings, they are here to stay.

Typically the encourage clients to sign up for packages that require a membership fee like a gym and then a certain number of monthly massages are included. This can be steady work and keep you busy but there are downsides as well.

Often there is a big pressure to sell and if you don’t meet a preset quota, you’re met with some harsh words. Often times the clientele are less than stellar since this is a bargain environment. It’s a good way to get experience because you do get better with everyone you touch.

They may require you to sign a contract stating that you won’t work for any other spa or facility within a certain radius. Think carefully about that. Is this going to provide you with enough work that you don’t have to be on-call elsewhere as well?


  • A bargain environment can sometimes attract less than desirable clients.
  • Long hours/multiple clients back to back with no break which is physically challenging.
  • Low wages.
  • Pressure to sell.
  • Non-compete clause.


  • Steady work.
  • Great experience with multiple clients.

Self Employment

Most people when they start massage school have an idea that they will have a practice where they set their hours and rate and work for themselves. This is certainly an option once you graduate, but understand what that involves. There are many decisions to be made.

Do you want to do outcall only or get an office? One is physically challenging and the other requires upfront and monthly costs. You must advertise your practice, pay for your own sheets, lotion, music, etc., bill clients, deal with scheduling, answer the phone, return calls, send reminders and follow ups and, on top of all that, massage people.

It’s an overwhelming task and not everyone is cut out for it. And that’s okay. The rewards are great, you do get to set your own hours and price, but there is a cost for being your own boss. There is a lot of work involved and I think most people dive into it without really thinking it through.

I remember rushing for the phone on weekends and evenings to make sure I didn’t miss any calls, taking every massage that came in so I could build my client list. It was exhausting and time consuming. If you are committed, driven, responsible and organized, it might be for you. Warning: it’s not for the lazy or faint of heart.


  • Time consuming.
  • Wearing multiple hats.
  • Expense involved.
  • Huge commitment.
  • Must be constantly available and promoting yourself to succeed.


  • Feeling of accomplishment.
  • Structure your practice to your dreams.
  • Select your hours, clients and rates (comes as time goes on).
  • It’s easier to find a niche and specialize if you are running your own practice.

Corporate Clients

Another new option that is becoming available in many parts of the country is corporate massage companies. You’d take your massage chair to offices or hospitals and perform short massages on staff or clients. This is fast paced and fun and some companies allow you to hand out your own cards for anyone that wants a longer, private massage.

Always check first before doing something like this as not everyone allows it. Some allow you to accept tips, others don’t and again it’s a great way to get your hands on many bodies to gain experience and confidence.


  • Lugging equipment.
  • Chair massage is physically difficult and can be tedious after several hours.


  • Steady.
  • Diversity of environments and people.
  • Possibly leads to private clients.

Gym or Fitness Center

The last mention of employment options is the local gym. More and more are offering massage to their members. It’s usually by appointment only and you’ll be expected to have a grasp of sports massage and be prepared to work on athletes. This is great experience to get into the sports world and work on people that are conscious of their bodies. You can typically set your hours or it can be an on-call basis. The pay is pretty good and a lot of people tip.


  • Confined to a gym setting.
  • By appointment only might not be steady work.


  • Built-in clientele.
  • Experience with athletes and body-conscious people.

These choices that I’ve mentioned here are by no means what you are limited to. Create your own options in salons, hospitals and airports. Massage is growing quickly in this country and the options will soon be limitless. Explore, knowing that you can always change your mind and make a different choice. Good luck in whatever massage environment you find yourself in!

Yours in Health.

Kathy Gruver has been involved in natural health for nearly two decades and has her Masters in Natural Health and Doctorate in Traditional Naturopathy.  Kathy is a Medical Massage Therapist, Natural Health Consultant, Reiki Master, and Birth Assistant.  She is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Natural Health.  Kathy owns Healing Circle Massage in Santa Barbara which specializes in medical and therapeutic massage and was chosen as a “Best Practice” by Massage Magazine in 2006 and 2007.




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  1. debbie says:

    What options do I have for financial help after massage school? I can’t find options for continuing education.

    I would like to pursue further specialized interests that look to cost upwards of 3,000.

    thank you in advance-for you help.