Chiropractors use spinal adjustments, ultrasound, massage therapy, and more to help patients with musculoskeletal health problems. The musculoskeletal system includes nerves, ligaments, bones, muscles, and tendons.

The founder of chiropractic, Daniel David Palmer, adapted treatment methods already in use for thousands of years with his modern understanding of physiology and anatomy. Relying on manual manipulation and supportive equipment, such as braces, chiropractors do not use surgery or drugs. Instead chiropractors emphasize alignment of the musculoskeletal system, with particular focus on the spine, to treat patients’ health problems.

Chiropractic treatment is increasing in use, particularly as the healthcare field transitions to a holistic, whole-health approach and emphasizes the benefits of integrative, complementary, and preventive healthcare. Furthermore, increased research is now available about the benefits of chiropractic care. Accordingly, employment in the U.S. is expected to grow by 7 percent between 2018 and 2028 (Bureau of Labor Statistics), particularly as the Baby Boomer generation ages and more health insurance plans cover chiropractic care.

Chiropractors typically work in office settings, although some chiropractors may provide care at a patient’s home or work non-traditional hours to accommodate patients’ schedules. Those interested in chiropractic should have excellent interpersonal skills and be comfortable with frequent movement over the course of the workday.

Chiropractors may specialize in certain chiropractic methods or work within a specific area of chiropractic. There are over 100 methods of chiropractic treatment, so chiropractors may choose multiple methods to specialize in, while still working across a diverse base of clients. Other chiropractors may choose to specialize and work towards an additional diplomate certification to enhance their skills and knowledge within a specific area. Common specializations for chiropractors include pediatrics, sports medicine, or nutrition.

Chiropractor Specializations & Degree Types

All chiropractors are required to have a Doctor of Chiropractic (DC) degree and be licensed to work in the state in which they are practicing. Licensure requirements differ by state, but all states require passage of the National
Board of Chiropractic Examiners exam

Chiropractic programs typically require completion of three years of undergraduate coursework to apply and take a little over three years to complete. Many colleges offer concurrent programs available for those who wish to complete a bachelor’s or master’s in another field while working towards their DC. Coursework typically includes anatomy, physiology, biology, and hands-on clinical experience. There are also five residency programs accredited by the Council on Chiropractic Education (CCE) that provide recent graduates the opportunity to gain greater clinical experience in an integrative healthcare setting. Last, those interested in choosing a specialty can focus on certain patient populations, such as sports or neurology. Chiropractors looking to choose a specialty will need to pursue additional credentials in addition to licensure requirements.

The American Board of Chiropractic Specialities (ABCS) coordinates specialty councils and boards accredited by the American Chiropractic Association (ABA). Each board and council represents a different specialty and has separate requirements for certification (also known as diplomate certification) that may differ by state. Typically, certification requires additional clinical experience and passage of an exam, as well as annual continuing education requirements to stay up-to-date on current trends and best practices.

Admissions Requirements for Chiropractic Programs

Most chiropractic programs require the completion of 90 credit-hours (three years) of undergraduate coursework. It is highly recommended that students obtain a bachelor’s prior to applying to their graduate program, as most states require a bachelor’s degree and a DC degree to be licensed as a chiropractor.

For those who have not obtained their bachelor’s degree, there are programs that offer a combined degree where individuals graduate with both a bachelor’s degree and a DC degree. Some programs also offer combined master’s degrees, where individuals can obtain a master’s degree in a complementary field and a DC degree.

Most DC programs require a minimum 3.0 GPA and do not require GRE scores. Applicants should have previous coursework in the life and physical sciences, as well as demonstrate a well-rounded education that includes courses in the humanities and social and behavioral sciences. Note that all schools require a favorable background check and submittal of an official undergraduate transcript.

Chiropractor Program Accreditation

Chiropractic programs are accredited by the Council on Chiropractic Education (CCE), which is recognized by the United States Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. CCE has accredited 16 programs across 19 locations in the United States and is an independent and autonomous agency. It works closely with the American Chiropractic Association (ACA) to ensure chiropractic education meets the standards of the profession.

Accreditation is not the same as ranking programs against one another. While accreditation would likely impact how highly a school is ranked, it is in every student’s interest to research the accreditation of prospective schools. In fact, accreditation is the process where the educational quality of an institution or program of study at a specific institution is evaluated to ensure that competent instruction and curriculum are provided. Chiropractic programs with CCE accreditation have demonstrated that they meet professional standards and have adequately prepared students to enter the field.

On-Campus Chiropractic Degree Programs

There are currently 16 accredited programs across 19 locations in the United States for those interested in obtaining their DC degree. Due to the hands-on nature of chiropractic, there are no online or hybrid programs available. Most programs require at least three years of undergraduate coursework, although prospective students are encouraged to obtain a bachelor’s degree prior to applying.

Palmer College of Chiropractic

The first chiropractic program in the country, Palmer College of Chiropractic offers an affordable DC degree grounded in hands-on practice and theory. With locations in Iowa, Florida, and California, Palmer offers a full time degree that students typically complete in three-and-a-half years. Note that their Iowa campus offers a trimester schedule (ten trimesters total), whereas their campuses in Florida and California are on a quarterly schedule (13 quarters total). There is a concurrent bachelor of science degree option available for those who wish to work towards their DC degree and a bachelor’s degree.

Coursework is grounded in the key tenets of Palmer’s curriculum: basic science, clinical sciences, and professional development and business management. Classes include basic sciences, clinical sciences, chiropractic technique, chiropractic philosophy, and business management. Students also receive clinical experience in the Palmer College Clinic System under the supervision of a licensed chiropractic.

Admissions requirements include completion of three years of undergraduate coursework with a minimum GPA of 3.0. Prospective students should also have 24 semester credit-hours of coursework in the life and physical sciences.

  • Locations: Davenport, Iowa; Port Orange, Florida; San Jose, California
  • Accreditation: Council on Chiropractic Education (CCE)
  • Expected Time to Completion: Three-and-a-half years
  • Estimated Tuition: $232 per credit hour

Cleveland University, Kansas City – College of Chiropractic

The College of Chiropractic at Cleveland University, Kansas City offers an accelerated, flexible DC program that can be completed in as few as ten trimesters (three years and three months). They also offer a concurrent degree where students can work to obtain a bachelor’s in human biology and a DC degree.

With a focus on holistic and natural healing, the DC degree at Cleveland University, Kansas City emphasizes the importance of spinal function and its relationship to good health and the nervous system. Classes include anatomy, nutrition, physiology, biology, and public health.

Students also receive hands-on experience as early as the first trimester.

Admissions requirements include completion of 90 semesters of undergraduate coursework with a minimum cumulative GPA of 3.0. Prospective students should have completed 24 semester-hours of coursework in life and physical science, as well as coursework in psychology, english or communications, and humanities and/or social sciences.

  • Location: Overland Park, Kansas
  • Accreditation: Council on Chiropractic Education (CCE)
  • Expected Time to Completion: Three years and three months
  • Estimated Tuition: $23,435 per year

National University of Health Sciences – College of Professional Studies

The College of Professional Studies at the National University of Health Sciences offers a DC degree at both of their Florida and Illinois campuses. The only accredited program to require a bachelor’s degree for admission, National University prepares students for work as a primary-care, contact-first physician and emphasizes a rigorous, science-based curriculum. The College of Professional Studies is one of only two programs to offer degrees in chiropractic, naturopathic medicine, acupuncture, and oriental medicine on the same campuses.

With a strong emphasis in human biology and anatomy, the ten-trimester DC program at National University trains chiropractors to diagnose and treat patients’ needs like physicians. Classes include patient diagnosis and history, analyzing data and imaging, performing physical examinations, chiropractic technique, and alternative medicine. Notably, students also complete a full year of clinical work in National University’s Whole Health Centers.

Admissions requirements include a bachelor’s degree with a minimum 3.0 cumulative GPA. Prospective students should also have 24 semester-credits of coursework in life and physical science, specifically biology, physics, general chemistry, and organic chemistry. It is also recommended that students have coursework in anatomy and/or biochemistry.

  • Location: Lombard, Illinois
  • Accreditation: Council on Chiropractic Education (CCE)
  • Expected Time to Completion: Three-and-a-half years
  • Estimated Tuition: $13,114 per trimester

Texas Chiropractic College

Texas Chiropractic College prepares future chiropractors in non-invasive and hands-on care that is grounded in a global and holistic curriculum. Founded in 1908, Texas Chiropractic College is one of the oldest DC programs operating in the United States and emphasizes clinical education. Admitted students will work with vulnerable and underserved patients through their community outreach program, as well as gain experience in neurology, pediatrics, and orthopedics through their unique Hospital Rotation Program.

The DC program comprises ten trimesters and is offered year-round. Students may also apply for the concurrent degree program, which offers a DC degree and a bachelor of science in human biology. The program includes classes on physiology, radiology, clinical medicine, and nutrition. Furthermore, students are able to participate in the Hospital Rotation Program, where students can choose from almost thirty hospitals and assist in patients’ evaluation, diagnosis, and treatment.

Those applying for admission should complete at least 90 semester-hours of undergraduate coursework with a minimum cumulative GPA of 3.0. Those 90 hours should include at least 24 semester-hours of life and physical sciences coursework and at least half of those courses should include a laboratory component. Prospective students must also prepare a personal statement and be able to pass a background check.

  • Location: Pasadena, Texas
  • Accreditation: Council on Chiropractic Education (CCE)
  • Expected Time to Completion: Three years and three months
  • Estimated Tuition: $10,115 per year

How Long Does it Take to Become a Chiropractor?

Depending on whether a person already has a bachelor’s degree, it takes an average of a little over three years (post-bachelor’s) and successful passage of the National Board of Chiropractic Examiners exam to become a chiropractor. Therefore, aspiring chiropractors can expect to spend just over seven years in higher education after graduating from high school.

Those seeking to complete a residency program in an integrated healthcare setting or work towards certification in a specialty area may take an additional five years before receiving their diplomate certification. Those pursuing a combined degree program may take an average of five or six years to complete their program, pass their exam, and become a licensed chiropractor. However, these programs permit students to work concurrently towards multiple, complementary degrees and receive more “bang for their buck.”

How To Become a Chiropractor – Step-by-Step Guide

Those interested in becoming a chiropractor will need to obtain a DC degree and pass the National Board of Chiropractic Examiners exam. State licensure boards and specialty boards and councils may include additional requirements for licensure. Generally, those pursuing a career in chiropractic will need to do the following after graduating from a bachelor’s degree program:

Step 1: Apply to a CCE-Accredited Chiropractic Program

Admission requirements typically include meeting minimum GPA requirements, submitting an official transcript, passing a background check, and demonstrating relevant coursework. Typically, schools require past coursework in life and physical sciences, as well as social and behavioral sciences. Many schools also value coursework in the humanities and communication.

Most programs require completion of three years of undergraduate coursework prior to applying. It is highly recommended to get a bachelor’s degree prior to applying, as many states require obtaining a bachelor’s degree and a DC degree for licensure. Note that there are concurrent degree programs that permit students to pursue a bachelor’s or master’s degree and a DC degree simultaneously.

Step 2: Complete a CCE-Accredited Chiropractic Program (Three Years or More)

Once admitted, students take coursework in anatomy, physiology, and biology. Students are also required to complete clinical education where they gain experience in hands-on techniques and methods for spinal adjustment and manipulation. Chiropractic programs typically take three-and-a-half to four years to complete, although those working on a combined degree may take as many as five or six years to complete their program.

Step 3: Take the National Board of Chiropractic Examiners Exam (Timeline Varies)

Licensure requirements vary state-by-state. However, all states require passage of the National Board of Chiropractic Examiners exam. This exam includes four parts that tests applicants on basic science, clinical science, clinical areas, and practical skills.

Step 4: Apply for Licensure (Timeline Varies)

Those ready to apply for licensure should check the individual requirements for the state they want to practice chiropractic in. Additional requirements, such as passing a jurisprudence exam that tests knowledge of state laws and regulations, may be necessary prior to applying.

Step 5: Celebrate and Maintain Licensure Requirements (Timeline Varies)

Congratulations! Those who passed their exam and successfully applied for licensure may now work as a licensed chiropractic. Many states require licensed chiropractors to stay up-to-date on new trends, care techniques, and state laws and regulations by taking a certain number of continuing education credits each year. Maintain licensure by meeting all continuing education requirements, as well as additional requirements that may be imposed on a state-by-state basis.

Step 6: Pursue Specialized Certifications (Optional, Timeline Varies)

Licensed chiropractors may choose to become a certified specialist through the American Board of Chiropractic Specialities (ABCS). Requirements differ by state and specialty board or council. Typically, those applying for specialty certification will need to complete a certain amount of clinical work in the specialist area they are interested in. They may also need to pass an additional exam.

What Do Chiropractors Do?

With a focus on overall health and wellness, chiropractors use adjustments and manipulations to the body to provide care. Accordingly, chiropractic is an active profession and practitioners are on their feet for most of the day. Unless they work in a specialty area, chiropractors work with many different patients throughout the day and may have a caseload that ranges from a young child to a former athlete.

Day-to-day activities for a chiropractor may include:

  • Reviewing patients’ medical histories and meeting with them to understand their concerns. This may include a physical examination, such as testing their reflexes or assessing their posture.
  • Working with patients to develop a care plan, which may include additional health and lifestyle advice, such as nutrition or sleep patterns.
  • Using neuromusculoskeletal therapy to adjust patients’ spine, joints, and more. This may include massage therapy, spinal manipulations or adjustments, or using additional equipment such as braces.
  • Monitoring patient progress, adjusting care plans as needed, or referring patients to a medical provider.

Chiropractor Certifications & Licensure

While requirements vary by state, all chiropractors are required to obtain a Doctor of Chiropractic (DC) degree and be licensed to work in the state they practice in. All states require passage of the National Board of Chiropractic Examiners exam and may require additional testing, such as a jurisprudence exam that tests applicants on state-specific ethics and laws.

Additional diplomate certifications are also available through the American Board of Chiropractic Specialities (ABCS). Note that states regulate chiropractic in different ways, so certain specialities recognized by the ABCS may be allowed in some states but not others. Always check the licensing board requirements for the state in which you want to practice.

Furthermore, each chiropractic specialty board and council have different requirements for certification. Be sure to check with the specialty board or council, as well as the state licensing board, prior to selecting and working towards certification in a specialty area.

How Much Do Chiropractors Make?

Chiropractors made a median annual wage of $71,410 ($34.33 per hour), according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2019). This means that half of professionals working in the field made more than $71,410 and the other half made less. The BLS estimated 50,300 chiropractors were employed in 2018.

The lowest 10 percent of chiropractors made $34,990 or less, while the highest 10 percent (the 90th percentile) made over $149,170. However, pay varies greatly by state and may be higher or lower depending on the location of the job.

Bree Nicolello

Bree Nicolello


Bree is an urban planner and freelance writer based in Seattle, WA. She has worked on land use and housing policy issues throughout the Pacific Northwest. She previously led Run Oregon Run, a nonprofit dedicated to helping Oregonians run for office and apply to boards and commissions. When not writing, she is lovingly tending to her cast iron pans.

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