Why This Matters

  • RESPIRATORY THERAPISTS ARE IN DEMAND

    Jobs for respiratory therapists are expected to increase 19% over the next decade. Growth in the middle-aged and older population, plus a growing emphasis on reducing hospital readmissions, is contributing to an increased demand for respiratory therapists.

  • EARN A SOLID ANNUAL SALARY

    The median annual salary for respiratory therapists is $61,330, with the highest 10% earning more than $86,980. Earning a bachelor’s degree enables you to advance to higher-paying positions in the field.

  • WORK IN A VARIETY OF SETTINGS

    Common work environments for respiratory therapists include hospitals, asthma clinics, emergency rooms, operating rooms, pediatric units, sleep laboratories, and pulmonary rehabilitation programs, among others.

Our Research

This list includes associate’s, bachelor’s, and master’s degree programs in respiratory therapy. Programs typically award an Associate of Science or a Bachelor of Science degree. We reviewed programs that are offered online, in-person, and in blended formats.

Most programs in this list are accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care (CoARC), which accredits degree-granting programs in respiratory therapy that have undergone voluntary peer review and meet high standards of quality in respiratory therapy education. This list also includes programs offered by regionally accredited schools, in addition to CoARC-accredited programs, as another measure of quality. Accreditation ensures you will receive the training necessary to achieve professional credentials in respiratory therapy.

We evaluated each program on the basis of flexibility, faculty, course strength, cost, and reputation. Then we calculated the Intelligent Score for each program on a scale from 0 to 100. Our top picks for the best Respiratory Therapy Degree program are affordable, respected, and flexible. (For a more extensive explanation, check out Our Ranking Methodology.)

  • 63 hours to write this article
  • 155 universities and colleges we assessed
  • 361 education programs we compared

The Top 50 Respiratory Therapy Degree Programs

Best Respiratory Therapy Degree Programs
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What You Should Know About This Degree

When exploring this career path, it’s worth considering similar occupations in healthcare, such as physical therapy and occupational therapy. Physical therapists treat patients who have injuries or illnesses to help improve movement and lessen pain, while occupational therapists focus on helping patients perform activities of daily living. However, the educational paths to entering these occupations are longer compared to respiratory therapy. By choosing a career in respiratory therapy, you can accelerate your entry into the medical field.

Respiratory therapists are specialized healthcare professionals who provide care to patients who have difficulty breathing due to acute or chronic heart and lung conditions. A respiratory therapist is trained to assist physicians in evaluating, diagnosing, and caring for patients with cardiopulmonary diseases, including those with asthma, bronchitis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, emphysema, and pneumonia, among other conditions. Patients range from newborns to the elderly. Respiratory therapists perform a variety of procedures such as airway management, chest physiotherapy, mechanical ventilation, oxygen therapy, and pulmonary function tests.

At a minimum, prospective respiratory therapists need an associate’s degree in respiratory therapy, but many employers prefer applicants who have a bachelor’s degree. Graduates also must pass credentialing exams, and all states except Alaska require respiratory therapists to be licensed. The National Board for Respiratory Care (NBRC), the primary credentialing body for respiratory therapists, offers two levels of certification, including Certified Respiratory Therapist (CRT) and Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT). The RRT is an advanced credential that requires candidates to pass the Therapist Multiple-Choice Exam required for the CRT credential, but with a high cut score, as well as a Clinical Simulation Exam.

What’s Next?

Here are some questions to ask when researching respiratory therapy programs:

  • Am I eligible for this program? Most associate’s and bachelor’s degree programs in respiratory therapy accept students from all educational backgrounds, including those who possess no prior competency in respiratory care. Before applying, check the program’s admission requirements to confirm that you meet their qualifications.
  • How long does it take to complete this online degree? The amount of time required to earn a respiratory therapy degree varies by program. On average, it takes four years for a full-time student to earn a bachelor’s degree in respiratory therapy. Associate degree programs typically take two years to complete.

As you research programs, you should keep track of admission requirements, application deadlines, and what application materials you will need to submit for each program. Review the school’s website for detailed information about the application process, or contact the admissions department for additional information.

Tuition and fees vary by program, but federal financial aid, loans, grants, and scholarships are available to help you fund your education. If you are currently employed, you may qualify for employer-sponsored educational assistance.