Accreditation FAQ

Institutional vs. Programmatic accreditation

Institutional accreditation from COMTA is for schools that only offer training in massage therapy and bodywork and/or esthetics and skin care. Programmatic accreditation is available to programs of massage or esthetics within larger institutions.

What type of requirements do you place on instructors within the massage or esthetics program?

A: Here is the excerpted language of the COMTA requirements for instructors:

3.1.1 All instruction is provided by individuals with appropriate education and experience.

3.1.2 Instructors of theory and technique must have credentials to practice professionally in the jurisdiction in which the institution is located if the credentials are available. This requirement is waived for non-residents of the jurisdiction if the credential is not available to non-residents, or if the non-resident instructor provides no more than 20 hours of instruction over the length of the program.

3.1.3 Instructors of theory and technique are eligible to sit for an appropriate licensing or certification exam or provide evidence of equivalent training or experience in lieu of eligibility.

3.1.4 Instructors of theory and technique have a minimum of two (2) years practical experience or are able to demonstrate the appropriate knowledge or expertise as required by the course learning objectives.

3.1.5 Instructors of anatomy, physiology and pathology have at least an undergraduate level proficiency in the subject matter being taught.

3.1.6 Official transcripts, diplomas or other documents provided by educational institutions certifying completion of training are on file for all instructors.

Please visit the COMTA Standards & Self Study Report located under “Accreditation Forms”. Please also make sure to check with your State Board for any other requirements for instructors.

Link: COMTA Standards & Self Study Report

Is Esthetics the same as Cosmetology?

Historically, esthetics has been taught within Cosmetology schools, but they are not the same.

Esthetics (sometimes spelled with an “a” at the beginning) is the profession of skin care practitioners. Estheticians receive training in performing facials, waxing, applying makeup and using certain tools and products to enhance the appearance of the skin.

Cosmetology is more focused on hair care, although in some states a Cosmetologist may also be allowed to perform esthetics services and even nail care. In many cases, the training a Cosmetologist receives in skin care is very minimal.

COMTA expanded to include esthetics to support the esthetics profession in raising the educational standards for entry-level practice. Our minimum requirement of 600 hours for accredited programs is aligned with the minimum number of hours for esthetics licensure in many states. In the marketplace, massage and esthetics services are often found together and some employers specifically look for graduates who are trained and licensed in both. We do not require that schools teach both massage and esthetics, although it is allowed. Programs in cosmetology are not included in our scope of accreditation. Schools which teach cosmetology and nail care must be institutionally accredited by another recognized agency before being eligible for programmatic accreditation from COMTA for any esthetics program offered.

More information about becoming an Esthetician can be found by contacting the Associated Skin Care Professionals (ASCP).

The National Coalition of Estheticians, Manufacturers/Distributors & Associations (NCEA) provides a certifying credential for estheticians as well as resources for continuing education. Please note that they way they use the term “accreditation” differs from our use and does not mean the same thing. COMTA is the only specialized accrediting agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education to evaluate entry-level programs in esthetics. The Commission on Accreditation for NCEA refers to continuing education for credentialed practitioners.

What is Accreditation?

Accreditation is a voluntary process of peer-review for schools or programs within schools to evaluate quality against a set of common standards.

The post-secondary education system in the United States operates with three different branches of oversight:

State regulations – usually focused on consumer protection

Federal regulations – mostly focused on appropriate use of funding for students

Accrediting bodies – relied upon for evaluation of educational quality, with additional duties to support the State and Federal functions

“Peer Review” means that the process is conducted by individuals who have similar education, background and responsibilities to those of the school or program being evaluated.

See our Accreditation: An Introduction page for more details about the benefits of accreditation.

Link: Accreditation page

How do I know if our school/program is eligible?

There are two main steps in determining if your school or program is eligible for accreditation.

First, you will need to understand the difference between “Institutional” and “Programmatic” accreditation and determine which one applies to your school or program. See the Common Question for explanation about those two types of accreditation.

Second, you will need to review the Standards for Accreditation (Self-Study Report) and the Eligibility Criteria in our Policy and Procedures Manual. You will need to meet the Eligibility Criteria and be well on your way to meeting all the Standards for Accreditation before you apply. If you find that there are certain Standards that you need some more time to work on, some of those can be addressed during your process of accreditation. However, there are two things that really need to be in place before you apply:

The financial statements for the school must be audited or reviewed by an outside accounting firm annually and meet the minimum requirements under Standard 8.1.

The curriculum must have a minimum of 600 hours and contain all the Curriculum Competencies outlined in Standard 2.10 (massage) or Standard 2.11 (esthetics).

If there are areas of the Standards where you do not yet comply, but you are willing to change your policies, procedures and so on to meet our Standards, then we encourage you to contact us and get started! Our staff is here to help you through the process.

I am interested in opening a school and becoming accredited, can you help me?

YES! We can help. After you know a little bit more about the requirements to operate in your state, we will be glad to help you understand the process of becoming accredited and our Standards for Accreditation.

To apply for COMTA accreditation, your school or program must already be state approved with a minimum of five (5) students enrolled in each program being considered for accreditation. You will need to contact your State government to find out more information for starting a business and obtaining an operating license. Massage and esthetics schools are usually regulated under either a department of Post-secondary Education, a Board of Health, a Board of Cosmetology or a Board of Consumer Affairs.

A listing of which agency of the State regulates schools can be found on this website from the Education Commission of the States. Please note that this website has not been updated since 2007. Our office may have updated information, so you may call 202-895-1518.

The federal government also has a website for searching for education related resources. The Directory is intended to help you identify and contact organizations that provide information and assistance on a broad range of education-related topics.

You will also need to incorporate any requirements from your local licensing board when designing your curriculum. Some state licensing boards require that the school be approved by the licensing board prior to operation. This may be in addition to other approvals from the State as referenced above, or it may be instead of any other requirements.

Licensing boards for massage may or may not be members of the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards (FSMTB). The FSMTB maintains a list of their members here.

Licensing information may also be found through one of the membership associations such as ABMP or AMTA. These two organizations also offer school memberships and professional liability insurance.

Licensing information for esthetics may be found through the ASCP. This organization also offers school membership and professional liability insurance.

COMTA is not affiliated with any of the organizations above, but we have positive relationships with them and would recommend you look at their services for schools in your planning stages. They may provide tools that will help you get started. Futhermore, insurance coverage is one of the requirements for being COMTA accredited so we suggest you get that in place early on in your process.

For more information about how to become accredited, please review the Common Questions under the category “Becoming Accredited”.

To view more of the COMTA eligibility requirements please visit “Resources and Questions” and read the COMTA Policies and Procedures Manual, page 4.

How many hours of training must be included in our program? I've heard that there must be a minimum of 900 hours, but I only see 600 hours in your policies.

A: One of COMTA’s requirements is that your massage or esthetices program must be a minimum of 600 hours to apply for COMTA accreditation. The 900 hour requirement is not a COMTA requirement. The number of hours in a program will be a major consideration in determining how much financial aid may be available, but there are numerous factors which go into financial aid calculations.

Many people have heard that in July 2011 the Department of Education changed the financial aid rules and there was something related to a minimum of 900 hours. This is the number of hours which must be taught in a program within one “academic year” to be a program eligible for “full-time” awards of the Pell grant at the maximum amount. It does not mean that a program must be 900 hours long. Please visit this link for more information:

Do you accredit international schools or programs?

Yes, COMTA can accredit schools and programs within the United States as well as outside. International schools and programs must meet the eligibility requirements as listed in the COMTA Policies and Procedures Manual on page 4 and comply with the Standards for Accreditation. At this time, COMTA does not have any accredited international schools or programs.

Accreditation by COMTA may be used by schools within the United States for participation in federal financial aid programs. International schools should consult with the U.S. Department of Education directly to determine if they could participate in any funding programs for students.

Link: COMTA Policies and Procedures Manual

How do I become an accredited massage therapist?

Accreditation is for schools and programs, not for individual practitioners. See the full answer for details about how to become a massage therapist.

Accreditation is for schools and programs, not for individual practitioners. The terminology often gets confusing. Here are some terms and their definitions to help clarify some things that are referred to in our policies, standards and website narratives:

Practitioner: An individual who has trained in an area of expertise and is now using their skills in the workplace.

Certification: Usually refers to an acknowledgement of a practitioner’s skills based on passing an exam. However, some states use this term when authorizing practitioners to work in that state.

License: An authorization to do something in a state. A practitioner might have a license to do massage, and a school owner might have a license to operate the school. We try to clarify when we mean approval to operate (for a school) versus having a license (for a practitioner). If a state uses the term “certification” instead of license for the approval of practitioners, that is considered included when “license” is used in our policies and standards.

Accreditation: An acknowledgment by a separate body that a school or program has met certain criteria. Even if a school has become accredited, the graduates of the school are not themselves “accredited”. The term only applies to the school or program as a whole.

If you are a student or recent graduate, you may need to go through additional steps to practice in your new profession. A typical set of steps would be:

Determine where you want to practice and what the rules are there. We recommend looking into this as early as possible to make sure you are studying the right subjects to meet the rules where you intend to practice. Rules may be at the state level, or they may be at a city or county level. Two organizations which keep close track of the rules for practicing are the ABMP and the AMTA. Their websites have information for practicing in each different state.

Graduate from a qualified program. Some states require that the school has specifically been approved by the massage licensing board. Others have a minimum number of hours of training. We recommend choosing a school accredited by COMTA to increase your opportunities as a student or graduate and potentially reduce some of the paperwork you must complete for licensing. See our Directory of Schools and Programs.

Passing an exam may be required. The state may require their own specific exam, or they might accept passing scores from one or more exams offered by other entities. One such exam is called the MBLEx, offered through the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards (FSMTB). Another organization, the National Certfication Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCBTMB), offers two professional certification exams and another licensing exam. State regulations usually specify which exam(s) are accepted.

After passing the applicable exam, you may need to formally apply for the license to practice and submit various materials and fees. Many license regulations require renewal every one or two years, and some also require that you continue your education and show evidence during renewal that you have taken “Continuing Education” that meets their criteria. Many schools offer courses which can be considered Continuing Education, and there are many independent instructors who travel around the country teaching either at schools or in a seminar style. Make sure to check your licensing regulations to find out which types of courses are acceptable.Courses may be advertised in many different places, including through member organizations such as the ABMP, the AMTA, the NCBTMB and the Alliance for Massage Therapy Education.

Link: Student Information