Best Respiratory Therapy Schools + Career Information – 2020

Starting a career as a respiratory therapist allows you to enter a rapidly growing sector of the healthcare field, where the demand for trained professionals to help people improve their breathing is expected to increase substantially. You can also expect to begin your career with an hourly salary that is three times the current minimum wage. However, you must take the first step by attending an educational training program that teaches you the skills that you need to be a respiratory therapist. We have listed the 5 best respiratory therapy programs to help you begin your new career.

What Education is Required to Become a Respiratory Therapist?

You will need to earn an associate degree to become a respiratory therapist. However, many respiratory therapists hold a bachelor’s degree, and going for the highest level of education possible allows you to enjoy more opportunities for finding a position in your preferred work environment.

Program Cost

An associate degree will cost you between $6,380 and $55,150 to complete. A bachelor’s degree costs more, and it can be as much as $110,310 to finish.

Type Cost
Associate Degree$6,380 - $55,150
Bachelor's Degree$29,900 - $110,310

Program Length

The average associate program takes around two years to complete, while your bachelor’s degree can take about four years to finish. Keep in mind that you may be able to take advantage of summer courses that help you finish faster.

Associate Degree2 Years
Bachelor's Degree4 Years

Can I Pursue This Program Online?

Respiratory therapy schools sometimes allow students to complete a portion of their degree online. Typically, online coursework for your degree program will be limited to general education courses such as English and mathematics that do not have hands-on components. You will typically need to attend classes on campus for science and health courses that require laboratory assignments. You will also need to come to campus for classes that teach you the direct skills that you will use as a respiratory therapist when you work with patients. Towards the end of your training, you can also expect to participate in clinical experiences that provide you with supervised opportunities to practice your skills.

Admission Requirements

Schools have requirements for admission that ensure that you are a strong candidate for the program. To begin your respiratory therapist training, you will need the following.

• a high school diploma or GED
• successful completion of all entrance exams


Training to become a respiratory therapist involves participating in a curriculum with a heavy science and health focus. You can expect to take classes such as human anatomy and physiology that help you to understand the mechanics behind respiration along with how certain diseases impact the body. You will also take courses such as chemistry that help you to understand how medications are formulated, and pharmacology that teaches you how these medications work to help people breathe better. As you reach the later stages of your education, you will take courses that help you perform diagnostic tests on the patient and develop treatment plans. You will also be trained on how to use the equipment that you need to provide respiratory therapy to patients.

What are the 10 Best Respiratory Therapy Programs Accredited by CoARC in the Nation for 2020

1) Boise State University - Boise, ID

2) Weber State University - Salt Lake City, Layton, Ogden, UT

3) Foothill College - Los Altos Hills, CA

4) Texas State University - Round Rock, TX

5) UNC Charlotte - Charlotte, NC

6) Stony Brook University - Stony Brook, NY

7) Nova Southeastern University - Palm Beach Gardens, FL

8) Bellarmine University - Louisville, KY

9) Salisbury University - Salisbury, MD

10) Independence University - Salt Lake City, UT

Why Attending a Program Accredited by CoARC Makes a Difference?

CoARC assesses educational programs to make sure that they are aligned with the standards and best practices that are in place for providing people with respiratory care. Attending a program with this accreditation lets you know that you are receiving the highest quality education possible. In some states, you must attend a program with this accreditation to be eligible to apply for your license.

Certification and Licensure Requirements to Work as a Respiratory Therapist

The majority of states require you to obtain a license to work as a respiratory therapist. Although each state has different requirements to become a licensed respiratory therapist, most require you to first obtain your certification before you will be considered for licensing. Currently, the National Board for Respiratory Care offers two types of professional certifications. Through them, you can become a Certified Respiratory Therapist or a Registered Respiratory Therapist.

You will first need to finish an accredited program before you can apply to take your exam. The exam consists of two parts. The first exam is a multiple-choice test of your knowledge concerning respiratory care. The second test is a clinical simulation that you will be given once you obtain a passing score on the first test. When you take your exam, your score will be determined to fit within either the high or low range. If your score is high enough to qualify, then you will be given the designation of Registered Respiratory Therapist. If it is lower, then you will become a Certified Respiratory Therapist. Going to a quality educational program helps you to prepare to earn the highest distinction. You can also use resources from the NBRC to practice for your exam so that you can obtain the highest possible score.

There are also specialty exams that you can take to earn additional certifications in areas such as pediatric care. Becoming certified in sleep disorders or adult critical care gives you an additional edge when it comes to finding employment after you graduate from your training program. To be eligible to take a specialty exam, you will need to first demonstrate excellence by earning your initial respiratory therapist certification.

Where Do Respiratory Therapists Work?

Hospitals; State, Local, and Private:

Respiratory therapists may work in hospitals where they help to stabilize patients in critical care situations.

Nursing Care Facilities (Skilled Nursing Facilities):

You may find a position in a nursing care facility where you help patients with respiratory conditions such as COPD breathe better.

Offices of Physicians:

Respiratory therapists also work in medical offices where they help to diagnose and treat patients with breathing difficulties.

Industry Employment
Number Percent
Hospitals; State, Local, and Private 104,97681%
Nursing Care Facilities (Skilled Nursing Facilities) 6,4805%
Offices of Physicians 2,5922%
(Source: BLS)

Work Environment & Conditions

Your respiratory therapist duties can sometimes require you to be on your feet for long periods of time. You may also engage in physical labor as you perform procedures such as chest physiotherapy. In some cases, you may need to lift or move patients as you provide them with care. Respiratory therapists that work in hospitals may need to work late night hours or on weekends. You may occasionally need to perform blood draws and other types of minor medical procedures for testing purposes. In a nursing care facility, you may be exposed to patients with communicable diseases such as tuberculosis that affect lung function. Although the position can be stressful and require long working hours at times, you will also find that it is rewarding to help patients feel their best. In most work environments, you will also work alongside physicians and other medical workers as a team to provide care to a patient.

What Starting Salary Can I Expect as a Respiratory Therapist?

The average respiratory therapist salary starts at around $22.88 an hour. This works out to $3,970 a month and $47,590 a year. In most states, this allows you to find comfortable housing and cover your financial needs with no problem.

Type Salary
(Source: In-House Research)

How Much Will My Salary Grow with Experience?

Respiratory therapists are typically rewarded for their service with annual raises and other benefits at their place of employment. Over time, you can watch your salary grow from $51,430 annually to as much as $83,520 a year once you have been working for 20 years or more.

Level of Experience Hourly Monthly Annual
1-4 years$24.73 $4,290 $51,430
5-9 years$28.98 $5,020 $60,280
10-19 years$34.98 $6,060 $72,760
20 years or more$40.15 $6,960 $83,520
(Source: BLS)

How Many Job Openings are there for Respiratory Therapy Graduates?

New Replacement Annual Job Openings (New + Replacement)
(Source: careeronestop)

10 Year Employment Outlook

The healthcare field is expected to have a greater than average need for respiratory therapists over the next ten years. This is largely due to the growing middle-aged and senior population. With more older adults in the population, there are greater incidences of illnesses such as pneumonia and chronic pulmonary obstructive disease that require the care that respiratory therapists provide. It is also estimated that the demand for respiratory therapists will grow due to an increasing number of medical facilities that need people to provide testing and therapy services for people with lung disease.

Employment Employment Growth, 2016-26
2016 2026 Number Percent
(Source: careeronestop)

State Wise Employment, Job Openings & Salary Breakdown

State Employment Annual Job Openings (New + Replacement) Annual Average Salary
Alabama 2,450 180 $50,770
Alaska 170 10 $76,610
Arizona 2,560 250 $58,420
Arkansas 1,090 70 $52,050
California 17,260 1,310 $79,640
Colorado 2,080 170 $63,070
Connecticut 1,260 90 $70,410
Delaware 410 30 $67,950
District of Columbia 290 30 $78,540
Florida 8,200 750 $57,960
Georgia 4,220 310 $57,520
Hawaii 340 20 $71,460
Idaho 680 70 $57,700
Illinois 4,150 350 $60,500
Indiana 4,010 300 $55,610
Iowa 950 70 $53,870
Kansas 1,130 100 $55,080
Kentucky 2,480 190 $49,890
Louisiana 2,380 10 $53,510
Maine 490 40 $59,410
Maryland 1,320 100 $67,660
Massachusetts 2,370 190 $73,660
Michigan 4,580 330 $57,040
Minnesota 1,950 100 $67,190
Mississippi 1,500 110 $49,220
Missouri 3,210 220 $56,320
Montana 410 40 $57,310
Nebraska 1,000 70 $55,560
Nevada 1,070 60 $73,530
New Hampshire 380 30 $66,570
New Jersey 3,090 240 $73,390
New Mexico 750 70 $58,200
New York 5,740 500 $74,890
North Carolina 4,390 320 $56,620
North Dakota 350 30 $57,720
Ohio 6,200 500 $56,830
Oklahoma 1,380 100 $54,540
Oregon 1,320 110 $69,000
Pennsylvania 5,810 420 $56,970
Rhode Island 320 30 $67,060
South Carolina 1,770 140 $55,990
South Dakota 330 30 $51,510
Tennessee 3,520 300 $51,400
Texas 11,250 1,060 $59,930
Utah 910 110 $61,480
Vermont 180 20 $66,260
Virginia 2,550 180 $60,200
Washington 2,050 200 $69,540
West Virginia 1,020 70 $50,420
Wisconsin 2,080 130 $62,150
Wyoming 200 N/A $57,960
(Source: BLS & careeronestop)

Important Organizations & Associations

American Association for Respiratory Care (AARC)

As a member of this association, you receive access to career services and other resources that help you succeed in your position.

National Board for Respiratory Care (NBRC)

The NBRC helps you to get certified and provides information on your status to potential employers.

Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care (CoARC)

Those who are involved with this association help to elevate the professionalism of everyone who works within the field of respiratory care.