Complete Guide to Online Respiratory Therapy Programs

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Quick Facts
Accreditation: CoARC
Degree Levels: Bachelor's and Master's
Avg Tuition: $21,408

Respiratory therapists treat patients who have breathing disorders and cardiovascular problems. They may work with patients who suffer from a chronic respiratory illness such as asthma or bronchitis, or provide emergency care to patients who have suffered a traumatic injury to the lungs. The patients that respiratory therapists treat span a wide range of ages. 

Prospective students are encouraged to choose degree programs that are accredited in order to ensure that they meet high academic standards and are respected within the field. The Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care (CoARC) is a CHEA-recognized programmatic accrediting body for respiratory therapy programs, and completion of a CoARC-accredited program is required for eligibility to take the National Board for Respiratory Care (NBRC) professional credentialing examinations. Read More

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Comprehensive List of Schools for an Online Respiratory Therapy Degree (19)

Overview of Available Online Respiratory Therapy Degrees

There are a variety of degree and certificate programs available for those interested in pursuing a degree in respiratory therapy. Online degrees in respiratory therapy include associate, bachelor's, and master's degrees.

Respiratory therapists need an associate degree, although some employers may prefer those who have bachelor’s degrees. They must be licensed in all states except Alaska. Students studying respiratory therapy will take courses in human anatomy and physiology, chemistry, physics, and pharmacology. All respiratory therapy programs have a clinical component in order for students to gain experience and receive training in a supervised environment.

Online Associate Degrees in Respiratory Therapy

An online Associate Degree of Applied Science in Respiratory Therapy Technology will allow students to develop the knowledge, skills, and behaviors of a respiratory therapist. Programs are 70-72 credits and take two years to complete. Students who obtain an associate degree are eligible to sit for The National Board for Respiratory Care (NBRC) examinations to become a certified respiratory therapist. Graduates of an associate degree program will be able to utilize and apply the knowledge obtained in order to diagnose, evaluate, treat, and manage patients.

You can obtain an associate degree from community colleges, technical colleges, online colleges, and universities, with many offering courses online. The only prerequisite for an associate degree in respiratory therapy is a high school diploma or GED. Classes include introduction to respiratory care, neonatal and pediatric respiratory care, pharmacology for allied health, and respiratory critical care procedures. A clinical portion is also required, where students will participate in supervised training at clinical care sites.

Online Bachelor’s Degrees in Respiratory Therapy

The online Bachelor’s of Science in Respiratory Therapy prepares students for careers as respiratory therapists. The bachelor’s program is for students who have already completed two years of prerequisite work. Many students start the program after completing their sophomore year of undergraduate work or after completing two years at a community college. Students completing the program will receive experience in advanced respiratory therapy techniques. Coursework includes introduction to respiratory care procedures, clinical pharmacology, pulmonary pathology, and pediatric critical care. Students must also participate in clinical rotations to gain exposure to patient care and experience in respiratory care procedures. Programs are 120 credits and take four years to complete.

Bachelor’s degree programs are offered at colleges and universities, with many schools offering programs online. A high school diploma or GED is required for admission as well as letters of recommendation and application essays. Students are often asked to submit SAT or ACT scores, depending on the school. Some bachelor’s degree completion programs require students to complete a clinical rotation as well.

All bachelor’s degrees have a core component. Classes covering topics in this area are typically taken during the first two years of study. Courses specific to your major are taken during the final two years. A bachelor’s degree is required for those wishing to seek an advanced degree.

Students obtaining a bachelor’s degree in respiratory therapy will be equipped with the skills needed to provide advanced respiratory therapy.

Online Master’s Degrees in Respiratory Therapy

The online Master’s of Science in Respiratory Care is a program designed for licensed Registered Respiratory Therapists (RRTs) and health care professionals including doctors and nurses who wish to obtain a broader knowledge in pulmonary care. Students may opt to specialize in specific areas such as respiratory therapeutics or respiratory care education. Coursework includes health promotion and disease prevention, applied statistics for the health professions, cardiopulmonary pathophysiology, and pulmonary and cardiac rehabilitation.

Master’s degree programs are offered at colleges and universities, with many offering programs online. The Master’s of Science in Respiratory Care is 33 credits and may be completed in one year of full-time study. A bachelor’s degree is required to apply to a master’s program. Students must submit an application, writing sample or essay, letters of recommendation, resume, and evidence of licensure.

Students completing a master’s degree in respiratory therapy will enhance their clinical practice skills and undergo leadership training in management, supervision, education, and research. They will also gain knowledge in a specialized area of study.

The Importance of Accreditation

The Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care (CoARC) accredits respiratory care degree programs. The Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care accredits respiratory care degree programs. It is important to choose a program that has been fully accredited, because in order to be eligible for the National Board for Respiratory Care (NBRC) professional credentialing examinations, program accreditation is required.

Accreditation ensures that a college, university, or program meets established standards. The curriculum of respiratory therapy programs can vary somewhat between schools. Attending a school that has been accredited ensures that you are receiving a degree that meets or exceeds the quality level set forth by the CoARC. In addition, respiratory therapy programs that are accredited by the CoARC must be part of an institution that has received institutional accreditation by an accrediting agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.

Attending a school that has been accredited is important so that the student and employer know you are receiving a quality degree. If you choose to transfer schools or obtain a higher degree, accreditation ensures that your prior coursework and degree will be recognized by other institutions.

Licensing and Certification Requirements for Respiratory Therapists

Respiratory therapists must be licensed in all states except Alaska. Licensure requires completing a state or professional certification exam. Most employers prefer to hire a respiratory therapist that has been certified. To obtain certification, you must graduate from an accredited program and pass a certification exam.

The National Board for Respiratory Care (NBRC) provides certification for respiratory therapists. Those seeking certification are required to pass an examination. The examination system was developed to objectively measure the knowledge, skills, and abilities that are needed to be a respiratory therapist and to set standards for measuring this knowledge.

The two levels of certification are the Certified Respiratory Therapist (CRT) and the Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT). The CRT is the first level of certification. To obtain a CRT, applicants must have completed an associate degree from an accredited respiratory therapy program or completed the equivalent coursework in a bachelor’s degree program and have passed an exam. The RRT is the second level of certification. To obtain an RRT, applicants must have a CRT certification, have met other education requirements, and have passed an exam.

Those seeking to become respiratory therapists may also be required to meet all guidelines set forth by their state’s respiratory care board in order to receive a state license.

Respiratory Therapy Jobs

Respiratory therapists must have an associate degree or bachelor’s degree in respiratory therapy and have passed a state or professional certification exam. Respiratory therapists work in hospitals, nursing care facilities, or travel directly to the patient’s home. Because they may work in medical facilities that are open all the time, some work evening, night, or weekend hours. Respiratory therapists interview and examine patients, provide diagnostic tests, and consult with physicians in order to determine the best course of treatment. The types of treatments they provide include chest physiotherapy, which removes mucus from the lungs, and aerosol medications. Respiratory therapists may connect patients who cannot breathe on their own to ventilators, which deliver oxygen to the patient’s lungs. Those who work in home care teach patients and their families how to properly use ventilators or other life-support equipment.

There were approximately 119,300 respiratory therapy jobs in the U.S. in 2012. Their average annual income was $55,870. Job growth for respiratory therapists is expected to be 19 percent from 2012-2022, making it faster than average for all occupations. Growth in the middle-aged and elderly populations will lead to an increase in respiratory conditions that require care. Job opportunities are best for those who are willing to travel to a specific location. While some major urban areas may be saturated with respiratory therapists, those areas that are more rural may not have any at all.


  • Information about Accreditation. The Council for Higher Education Accreditation. Accessed November 21, 2014.
  • Online Master’s in Respiratory Therapy. Canisius. Accessed November 20, 2014.
  • Respiratory Therapists. Bureau of Labor Statistics of the US Department of Labor. Accessed November 20, 2014.
  • RRT Credential. The National Board for Respiratory Care. Accessed November 20, 2014.
  • Welcome to COARC. Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care. Accessed November 20, 2014.
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