Athletic Trainer

Being an elite athlete takes a lot of hard work, dedication, and time. Elite athletes rely on an entire team of professionals to help them succeed, including brand managers to promote them, coaches to train them, and athletic trainers to keep them in the sport. While each of these professionals is essential, it is the athletic trainers who handle injury prevention, rehabilitation, and recovery.

Athletic trainers can work for a professional sports team, in high school or collegiate athletics, at a hospital, or in physical therapy clinics. Their goal is to help identify, prevent, and rehabilitate athletic injuries. They are essential medical professionals who keep athletes of all abilities on their feet and at their peak.

Athletic trainers must complete at least a bachelor’s degree in athletic training and, starting in 2021, a master’s in science (MS) in athletic training. Certification through the Board of Certification for the Athletic Trainer (BOC) is an industry-standard and required for licensing in most states. Licensing is required in every state except for California.

The career outlook for this field is outstanding, with an anticipated 16 percent increase in jobs nationally between 2019 and 2029 (Bureau of Labor Statistics 2020). These 5,200 new athletic training positions are due to an increased demand for trainers as awareness and concern over sports injuries have become more prevalent. In addition, an increase in sophistication and availability of sports injury treatments is also driving demand for more athletic trainers.

Continue reading to learn how to join this exciting and growing career that keeps athletes at their best.

Athletic Trainer Specializations & Degree Types

Currently, athletic trainers must earn at least a bachelor’s degree in athletic training or exercise science. Students who have a bachelor’s degree in a field other than athletic training can complete a post-professional master’s.

Starting in 2021, all prospective athletic trainers will need to obtain a master’s degree or higher. Upon completing a master’s degree, athletic trainers can pursue a residency, fellowship, academic doctoral degree, or clinical doctoral degree.

There is currently only one specialization field recognized by the Board of Certification for the Athletic Trainer (BOC), which is orthopedics. However, certified athletic trainers can petition for a new specialization through an online application process.

Admissions Requirements for Athletic Trainer Programs

Admissions to athletic training programs can be competitive based on the popularity of the programs. For bachelor’s programs, students often need to complete prerequisite coursework and be in the second or third year of their degree to be considered for admission. Additional requirements can include submitting an application, writing a statement of purpose, providing letters of recommendation, completing clinical observations, and meeting physical requirements.

Master’s degree program admission requirements for athletic training programs typically include prerequisite coursework, a completed bachelor’s degree, letters of recommendation, GRE test scores, and official transcripts. International students whose first language is not English will need to submit proof of English proficiency through either a TOEFL or IELTS exam.

Athletic Trainer Program Accreditation

The Commission on Accreditation of Athletic Training Education (CAATE) accredits athletic trainer programs. Students need to attend a program that is CAATE accredited as this is required for licensing in most states and is required for certification. Accreditation ensures the program meets educational standards as well as content requirements and quality of faculty.

On-Campus Athletic Trainer Degree Programs

The Ohio State University – School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences

The Ohio State University School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences offers a bachelor’s of science in athletic training. This four-year degree prepares students for board certification and state licensure. Students in this program will have the opportunity to work with some of the over 1,000 student-athletes at the university, including well-known football players. With seven state-of-the-art athletic facilities on campus, student athletic trainers will always have top-quality buildings to work in.

Over the past ten years, this program has had a 99 percent first-time pass rate for the national board exam. Most graduates are employed within 30 days of graduation, as this program is highly regarded nationwide. Required coursework includes therapeutic exercise, musculoskeletal screening, and corrective techniques, and nutrition for general sports education.

  • Location: Columbus, OH
  • Duration: Four years
  • Accreditation: Commission on Accreditation of Athletic Training Education (CAATE)
  • Tuition: $33,502 per year

University of Michigan – School of Kinesiology

The brand new master’s in science (MS) in athletic training at the University of Michigan School of Kinesiology starts the summer of 2021. This two-year program emphasizes the prevention, rehabilitation, and treatment of musculoskeletal injuries. Intensive classroom lectures are combined with four semester-long comprehensive clinical experiences. These clinical experiences allow students to learn the day to day workload of athletic trainers while receiving constant feedback and training.

Graduates of this program will complete coursework such as research methods and statistics in sports medicine, rehabilitation of athletic injuries, and fundamentals of strength and conditioning. They will have the necessary skills to care for athletes and promote wellness in various athletic settings. Admission requirements include GRE scores, a personal statement, a statement of purpose, three letters of recommendation, and prerequisite coursework.

  • Location: Ann Arbor, MI
  • Duration: Two years
  • Accreditation: Commission on Accreditation of Athletic Training Education (CAATE)
  • Tuition: $26,853

Boston University – College of Health & Rehabilitation Sciences: Sargent College

The master’s in science in athletic training at Boston University College of Health & Rehabilitation Sciences: Sargent College combines medicine, the human body, and sports. Not only do they train students to help athletes condition their bodies but also how to help them recover and strengthen post-injury. The first year of this two-year program is primarily classroom learning with some interspersed clinical experiences. The second-year is three consecutive full-time clinical practices where students apply what they have learned at one of a dozen clinical education sites.

This program emphasizes evidence-based athletic training and allows students to assist in research labs on campus should they so choose. Students also learn how to collaborate with physicians, surgeons, emergency room doctors, and physical therapists both in clinical practices and on the sports field. This program is exclusively offered for full-time students. Graduates are eligible to sit for the BOC exam.

  • Location: Boston, MA
  • Duration: Two years
  • Accreditation: Commission on Accreditation of Athletic Training Education (CAATE)
  • Tuition: $56,854 per year

Online or Hybrid Athletic Trainer Degree Programs

Due to the hands-on nature of athletic training, there are limited fully online programs. The majority of the accredited online programs are to advance the education and training of professionals already in this field, such as the program below.

University of South Florida – Morsani College of Medicine

The University of South Florida Morsani College of Medicine offers a one-year hybrid post-professional master’s for students who are already working as athletic trainers but want to further their education. This master’s in science in advanced athletic training emphasizes youth sports safety and pediatric athletic training.  All courses are offered online except for one five day intensive in-person course in Tampa, FL.

Coursework in this program is rigorous, and students will be required to complete classes such as youth injury epidemiology, preventing sudden death in sports settings, and medical conditions of adolescents. While there is no thesis requirement, students are required to complete a capstone project. This program’s admission requirements include BOC athletic trainer certification or equivalent, GRE scores, prerequisite coursework, and recommendation letters.  

  • Location: Tampa, FL 
  • Duration: One year
  • Accreditation: Commission on Accreditation of Athletic Training Education (CAATE)
  • Tuition: $5,300 to $14,949 per semester

How Long Does it Take to Become an Athletic Trainer?

It takes between four to six years to become an athletic trainer, post graduating high school. After 2021, it will take six or more years because a master’s degree will be required for BOC certification.

How To Become an Athletic Trainer – Step-by-Step Guide

Step 1: Graduate from High School or Complete a GED (Four Years)

Completing high school or earning a GED is the first step towards becoming an athletic trainer as it is required for admission to most bachelor’s degree programs. Having a high school diploma or GED also demonstrates a dedication to completing a program and a minimum education level. Students who want to pursue a career in athletic training should focus on classes such as anatomy and physiology, science, math, and psychology. Additionally, students can volunteer in their high school athletics program to gain hands-on experience.

Step 2: Complete Athletic Trainer Education (Four to Six Years)

At a minimum, athletic trainers must complete a bachelor’s degree in athletic training as this is required for BOC certification. Starting in 2021, athletic trainers will need to have a master’s degree or higher to be eligible for certification. While most of the programs across the country are on campus, there are few post-professional master’s programs that allow already certified athletic trainers to further their education. Students can pursue their degrees at a number of institutions, including large Division 1 schools that have state of the art athletic facilities and high profile student-athletes.

Students should ensure the program they attend is CAATE-accredited (Commission on Accreditation of Athletic Training Education), as this is required for certification and most state licensure.

Step 3: Earn an Athletic Trainer Certification (Timeline Varies)

Once students have completed their educational requirements, they may apply to sit for the BOC certification exam. Certification demonstrates competency in this field can help instill confidence in employers and clients. Further details about certification can be found below.

Step 4: Obtain State Licensure (Timeline Varies)

Athletic trainers are required to be licensed in all states except for California. All states that require athletic trainers to be licensed accept the BOC certification exam for their examination requirements. Further details about state licensing are found below.

What Do Athletic Trainers Do?

Athletic trainers work in high school and collegiate athletics, in hospitals, for professional sports teams, in rehabilitation centers, and as self-employed trainers. Day-to-day responsibilities vary based on place of employment, but typical duties include:

  • Evaluating athletic injuries
  • Applying tape, braces, of bandages to help prevent or treat injuries
  • Providing emergency care during sports events
  • Writing rehabilitation plans for injured athletes
  • Implementing rehabilitation plans
  • Collaborating with physicians and surgeons to provide comprehensive care
  • Maintaining careful client records

Athletic Trainer Certifications & Licensure

Athletic trainers are licensed by the Board of Certification for the Athletic Trainer (BOC). The exam required for certification is recognized by all 49 states that require licensure, so athletic trainers only need to sit for one exam.

In order to be eligible to sit for the BOC exam, candidates must complete a Commission on Accreditation of Athletic Training Education (CAATE) accredited education program. The exam consists of 175 multiple-choice questions that must be answered in four hours. Results are available within two to four weeks.

Licensing is required for athletic trainers in most states. Requirements vary by state, and candidates should check with their local board to ensure they meet all the requirements. In Illinois, for example, prospective athletic trainers must:

  • Pass the BOC exam
  • Pay a $200 application fee
  • Submit a completed application including a criminal convictions affidavit
  • Provide proof of current CPR certification

How Much Do Athletic Trainers Make?

On average athletic trainers earn $50,540 per year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2019). Wages vary based on place of employment, level of education achieved, and years of experience. The percentiles for wages are:

  • 10th percentile: $31,300
  • 25th percentile: $39,860
  • 50th percentile (median): $48,440
  • 75th percentile: $59,430
  • 90th percentile: $73,470
Kimmy Gustafson

Kimmy Gustafson


Kimmy is a freelance writer with extensive experience writing about healthcare careers and education. She has worked in public health, at health-focused nonprofits, and as a Spanish interpreter for doctor’s offices and hospitals. She has a passion for learning and that drives her to stay up to date on the latest trends in healthcare. When not writing or researching, she can be found pursuing her passions of nutrition and an active outdoors lifestyle.

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