Athletic trainers (ATs) are healthcare professionals who collaborate with physicians to provide preventative services, emergency medical care, clinical diagnosis, therapeutic intervention and rehabilitation of injuries and medical conditions in the physically active population. Those who want to become an athletic trainer (AT) have to earn an athletic training degree from an entry-level athletic training program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Athletic Training Education (CAATE) and pass the Board of Certification (BOC) examination. We recommend students ready to pursue a degree in athletic training consider a few key questions prior to applying to athletic training programs.
Question 1: What athletic training programs should you consider?
There are many aspects to consider when determining which program is the best for you; program design, location, total program costs, faculty expertise, student-to-instructor ratios, clinical experience options, graduation rates, and BOC examination pass rates are a few of the factors that you may want to consider. Certain people may prefer to attend a program in specific parts of the country to be near family and friends, gain access to professional networking opportunities, or experience something new before beginning the career. Others may more strongly consider differences in expenses in attending different programs based on in-state, out-of-state, or private university costs based. Ultimately, each student needs to determine the factors that are most important to them on an individual level.
One of the key considerations is program model. Within this factor, interested students should consider their application route: Are you planning to attend a program out of high school, or will you seek admission into a specific program after earning a baccalaureate degree? Some programs may offer accelerated routes that fit some students better than others. For example, a high school senior may earn an undergraduate degree along with their master’s degree in athletic training in 5 years in accelerated programs often called “3+2 programs.” Those who decide to attend a community college may still be able to qualify for that accelerated route (i.e., “2+1+2 program”) if their community college has a matriculation agreement with a specific university with an athletic training program. In contrast, those who desire to become an athletic trainer after earning an undergraduate degree would need to consider traditional entry-level graduate programs and decide on other aspects of the model because program length (i.e., 2 years) will be the same across the programs.
Another key aspect of program model is curriculum structure and related clinical experiences. Interested students may wish to consider the number of units in a program, course sequence, the mission and vision of the program, course types and focus (e.g., does the program offer advanced manual therapy training, etc.), faculty-to-student ratios, and expectations for clinical experiences. While programs have to meet the same CAATE accreditation requirements, there can still be substantial variation across programs in these areas. One important area is the clinical experience opportunities provided to students within the program model. Interested students may want to consider how many clinical sites a program offers, the types and availability of different clinical experiences, the clinical hours requirements for clinical experiences, and how much involvement students have in guiding or selecting their clinical field experiences. The differences here may be vital for students to tailor their experiences to best prepare them for individual career goals or networking opportunities needed to gain employment in specific work settings.
Once you have identified programs that fit your goals, desires, and needs (e.g., location, cost, program model, etc.), we recommend that you consider admission requirements. What are the necessary prerequisite courses needed for admission and what are program policies on meeting these requirements? What are the GPA requirements and do you need to take additional testing (e.g., GRE)? What is the application window and what are the application expectations if I am a graduate applicant versus an internal (e.g., 3+2) applicant? Will you need to interview with a program admission team, and will that interview need to be completed with a visit to campus? Given the diversity of program options, we recommend contacting faculty at each program prior to applying so that you can learn more about the program and have any questions that you may have answered. There are many programs to choose from and not all of them are exactly alike; it is important to find a program that fits you and your career goals.
Question 2: How do you apply to an athletic training program?
First, review program application requirements and ready your application materials. Requirements may include prerequisite coursework, transcripts, observation hours, letters of recommendation, and personal statements. Second, note specific application deadlines for the programs you are considering and give yourself ample time to submit your application materials. Third, determine how your selected programs want you to submit an application. Many programs use ATCAS which allows students to more efficiently apply to multiple programs with a single submission process. Fourth, prepare for a potential admission interview. Think about potential questions you might get asked, practice your responses to those questions, and write down any questions you might have for the interview committee. It may be helpful to do a mock interview or to research the faculty where you will be interviewed.
Question 3: What should you consider while completing your athletic training degree?
Once admitted into a program, you transition to maximizing your experience to best prepare for the BOC exam while working to become an outstanding AT. As you complete your degree, consider your goals, what you hope to accomplish, and the steps you need to take to reach your goals. Work with your faculty to develop a plan for your clinical experiences that allow you to work in different clinical settings, with diverse sport/activities and patients, and with excellent preceptors to help inform your future career planning. Utilize the insights and experiences of your faculty and preceptors to help you determine which experiences are right for you to help you set yourself up for career success.
It might also be helpful to take advantage of additional learning and networking opportunities. Work with your faculty and preceptors to become involved with athletic training committees and organizations at a local, state, regional, or national level. Numerous opportunities are available for student involvement on committees at different levels and each can boost your resume or introduce you to someone who could help you in your career journey. Consider applying for scholarships, grants, and travel funds at your university or with other organizations that can help provide funding to attend a professional conference, conduct research, or take additional training beyond the MSAT curriculum. Each of these experiences can help you grow, make your resume more competitive when job hunting after graduation, or can help you to provide better care for your patients when you are an AT.
Question 4: What do students need to prepare for as they approach graduation?
Students often focus on the major hurdles of finishing program tasks for graduation, preparing for the BOC exam, and beginning a job search. It is often helpful to plan in advance for what your final semester will look like for scheduling time for coursework, clinical experiences, and exam preparation. Organizing a schedule prior to your final semester can reduce stress and help you succeed in completing all of the remaining tasks. Work with your faculty to identify different resources (e.g., exam prep books, practice exams, courses, workshops, etc.) that can help you prepare for your board exam and your job hunt. Re-assess your plan as you go along and make adjustments as necessary. Utilize campus resources, program faculty and preceptors, and even your friends and family to review your resume, cover letters, and job interview preparation.
Question 5: What will you do after graduation?
Following graduation and successful completion of the BOC exam the next step is to begin your career as an AT. Hopefully, your clinical experiences gave you some insight into what setting you may want to work in, an idea of what type of patients you would like to work with, and a good network of professionals who can support your career development. It is important to remember that being open to different employment locations can be extremely helpful in finding a job that is a good fit for you. You should also consider other requirements for practicing as an AT. One of those steps is to consider state regulation requirements and what you need to do to be in compliance for practice. A second step is to prepare for maintaining your certification. A third step would be to create a plan for continued professional development because your education doesn’t stop when you graduate. Attending conferences and other continuing education events should be part of your yearly plan; however, you might also want to consider more formal post-professional training that can be completed in a residency program or a doctoral degree program to advance your clinical practice. It is important to remember that you need to continue to learn and grow to be able to continually provide the best care you can for all your patients as our knowledge base and your experience continue to grow.
We think the athletic training programs at the University of Idaho are often a great fit for students considering these questions as they plan for their future in athletic training. We offer a unique hybrid-model to limit program costs, remove attendance barriers, and empower you to tailor a clinical experience plan that is right for you. Our professional MSAT and post-professional DAT programs utilize summer intensive sessions to accelerate your knowledge and hands-on learning to ready you for patient care in the fall and spring semesters at clinical experiences that are right for you. We have ample opportunity to gain extensive manual therapy training and clinical experiences with expert instructors across the country to help you develop into an exceptional AT who is positioned to walk your career path. You can also spend time in Moscow, Idaho, enjoying the beauty and outdoor activities the great state of Idaho has to offer.