Athletic Trainer

“Athletic training as a field has broadened in the past couple of decades, and now we work with a wide variety of individuals. This includes our more traditional settings focusing on athletes and active individuals, but athletic trainers are also experts at reducing injury risk in the workplace, providing injury evaluation and diagnosis in the physician’s office, acute care, and rehabilitation at cadet academies, and even work in the emerging field of space medicine.”

Mark Knoblauch, PhD, Director for the Master of Athletic Training Program, University of Houston

Being an elite athlete requires hard work, dedication, and time. Elite athletes rely on a 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, athletic trainers 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 generally must complete a CAATE-accredited professional bachelor’s degree (or higher) to be eligible for certification through the Board of Certification for the Athletic Trainer (BOC). This credential is an industry-standard and is 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 14 percent increase in jobs nationally between 2022 and 2032 (Bureau of Labor Statistics 2024). These 4,800 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.

Arizona State University
Methodist University
East Central University Online
University of West Alabama (Campus)

Meet the Expert: Mark Knoblauch, PhD, LAT, ATC, CSCS

Dr. Mark Knoblauch is the program director for the master of athletic training program at the University of Houston. He is a certified and licensed athletic trainer, a certified strength and conditioning specialist, and a former EMT. He holds a bachelor’s degree in exercise science from Wichita State University, a master’s degree in kinesiology from UNLV, and a doctorate in kinesiology from the University of Houston, where his research delved into chronic high cholesterol’s impact on skeletal muscle damage post-exercise. 

Dr. Knoblauch completed a post-doctoral fellowship in molecular physiology and biophysics at Baylor College of Medicine, focusing on statin drugs’ effects on myofiber signaling mechanisms. Before his doctorate, he worked as the head athletic trainer at Pratt Community College and Lamar University, chairing various national and regional committees, serving as a site visitor for CAATE, and contributing as an editor and author in academic and consumer health publications.

HealthcareDegree.com: What is something you wish the public understood about athletic trainers?

Dr. Knoblauch: My goal is for the public to understand there is more to an athletic trainer than just working with athletes. Athletic training as a field has broadened in the past couple of decades, and now we work with a wide variety of individuals.  This includes our more traditional settings focusing on athletes and active individuals, but athletic trainers are also experts at reducing injury risk in the workplace, providing injury evaluation and diagnosis in the physician’s office, acute care, and rehabilitation at cadet academies. They even work in the emerging field of space medicine. So while the athletic population is our traditional patient base, athletic trainers now provide care to a wide range of patients.

HealthcareDegree.com: What advice would you give to aspiring athletic training students?

Dr. Knoblauch: My general advice is to understand that the educational process is rigorous, but the rewards are high. Similar to other medical professions, athletic training requires coursework and hands-on experience gained through clinical experiences. Those clinical experiences involve interacting with patients in various settings, including athletes and non-athletic patients, to provide an experience that improves the student’s overall knowledge base. 

In addition, athletic training has switched to a master’s degree, like many other related medical professions. Therefore, instead of accruing clinical hours while also taking undergraduate classes as has happened in the past, students aspiring to be athletic trainers will now go to “athletic training school,” similar to how they might choose physical therapy school or physician assistant school after obtaining their undergraduate degree. Eligibility to take the athletic trainer certification exam now requires a minimum of six semesters of study at the master’s level.

Athletic Trainer Specializations & Degree Types

Prospective athletic trainers must generally obtain a master’s degree or higher. If they wish to complete additional education, they 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): 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. 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 must 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 must attend a CAATE-accredited program to be licensed in most states and certified. Accreditation ensures that the program meets educational standards, content requirements, and faculty quality.

On-Campus Athletic Trainer Degree Programs

University of Houston – College of Liberal Arts And Social Sciences 

The University Of Houston College Of Liberal Arts And Social Sciences offers a master’s of athletic training program that aims to offer valuable learning experiences and promote inquiry, discovery, and advocacy. This program nurtures personal and professional growth through didactic, clinical, and professional involvement, preparing graduates to be competent and compassionate professionals. Upon completion, graduates will possess the necessary knowledge, skills, and abilities to pass the BOC exam and effectively practice as athletic trainers within interdisciplinary healthcare teams.

Admission requirements for this program include An undergraduate degree, a current resume, a statement of professional goals and interests, two academic or professional letters of recommendation, and 50 observation hours. Applicants must also complete prerequisite coursework in general biology, chemistry, physics, anatomy and physiology, biomechanics, psychology, statistics, and nutrition.

  • Location: Houston, TX
  • Duration: Six semesters
  • Accreditation: Commission on Accreditation of Athletic Training Education (CAATE)

The Ohio State University – School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences

The Ohio State University School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences offers a master’s in athletic training. This two-year degree prepares students for board certification and state licensure. Students in this program will be able 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 three years, this program has had a 96 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)

University of Michigan – School of Kinesiology

The new master’s in science (MS) in athletic training at the University of Michigan School of Kinesiology started in 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)

Kent State University

The master’s of athletic training at Kent State University prioritizes injury prevention, evaluation, treatment, and rehabilitation. Student trainers collaborate with healthcare professionals to offer quality care in diverse settings. The curriculum, guided by committed faculty, readies students for fulfilling careers. Faculty hold BOC certification and Ohio licensure. 

This program includes didactic and clinical education experiences to ensure students’ well-rounded education. Courses students can expect to take include acute injury diagnosis,  cadaver anatomy, physical rehabilitation, and neural concepts for healthcare professionals. 

  • Location: Kent, OH
  • Duration: Two years
  • Accreditation: Commission on Accreditation of Athletic Training Education (CAATE)

University of South Florida 

At the University of South Florida, students can earn their master’s of athletic training. This selective program equips students with the necessary skills and knowledge to excel as athletic trainers in sports medicine. This on-campus program spans six semesters over 24 months and includes immersive clinical experiences throughout the curriculum. It is one of the few programs in the country anchored in a medical college. 

Graduates from the program go on to establish successful careers as athletic trainers in various settings, including secondary schools, colleges and universities, professional sports programs, sports medicine clinics, and other athletic healthcare environments. Admission requirements include extensive prerequisites, CPR certification, and an undergraduate degree from a regionally accredited institution.

  • Location: Tampa, FL
  • Duration: Two years
  • Accreditation: Commission on Accreditation of Athletic Training Education (CAATE)

California State University Long Beach

The master’s of science in athletic training at California State University Long Beach is designed to prepare individuals for a career as a certified athletic trainer. Skills students will learn include preventative care, emergency treatment, clinical diagnosis, therapeutic intervention, and rehabilitation for injuries and medical conditions. This program is full-time and follows a cohort model.

Applicants must be college graduates, meet prerequisite requirements and adequately prepare for professional education. The athletic training faculty evaluates applicants’ essential skills necessary for practicing as athletic trainers during the admission review process. 

  • Location: Long Beach, CA
  • Duration: Two years
  • Accreditation: Commission on Accreditation of Athletic Training Education (CAATE)

Texas A & M – School of Education and Human Development

Two program options exist for aspiring certified athletic trainers seeking a master of science in athletic training at Texas A&M School of Education and Human Development. The first option is a two-year program designed for students who have already completed their undergraduate degrees. The second option is a five-year dual degree program (BS-KINE/MS-AT) intended for incoming college freshmen.

Admission to this program is highly competitive. Students receive personalized guidance with dedicated faculty and preceptors throughout their academic journey. Small class sizes allow for individualized instruction and help in planning future careers. Students gain valuable clinical experiences in diverse settings and have the opportunity to work with top Division I SEC athletes during events and championships.

  • Location: College Station, TX 
  • Duration: Two years
  • Accreditation: Commission on Accreditation of Athletic Training Education (CAATE)

Online or Hybrid Athletic Trainer Degree Programs

Due to the hands-on nature of athletic training, there are limited fully online programs. 

Hardin-Simmons University

Hardin-Simmons University offers one of the first fully online master’s of athletic training programs in the country. This degree offers a unique blend of online coursework and on-campus intensives, providing flexibility and hands-on learning opportunities. 

Students can continue working during their first year of school. Textbooks are provided electronically at no cost, saving students over $1,500. In the second year, the program assists students in finding clinical experiences that align with their professional goals. Their state-of-the-art facilities, including a skills lab, simulation center, and classrooms, offer top-notch athletic training education. 

  • Location: Abilene, TX 
  • Duration: Two years
  • Accreditation: Commission on Accreditation of Athletic Training Education (CAATE)

Texas Lutheran University

Students at Texas Lutheran University have two paths to earn a master’s of athletic training: a five-year option for traditional college freshmen and a direct entry option for those with an undergraduate degree. While most of the classes for this program are in person, some online options are offered, particularly while students are participating in clinical experiences.

In the final two semesters of the program, students participate in two immersive clinical experiences. These experiences involve online academic coursework and focus on clinical learning. Students follow the schedule of their clinical site to gain a comprehensive understanding of being an athletic trainer and enhance their decision-making skills. 

  • Location: Seguin, TX 
  • Duration: Two years
  • Accreditation: Commission on Accreditation of Athletic Training Education (CAATE)

A.T. Still University Arizona – School of Health Sciences

The master’s of science in athletic training at A.T. Still University Arizona School of Health Sciences is an online post-professional program. Students can plan their didactic coursework to complete the program in one or two years. This program is specifically designed for individuals who are state-licensed and/or certified by the Board of Certification (BOC) as athletic trainers, or those who meet the eligibility requirements to sit for the BOC certification examination before starting the program. 

This online degree prioritizes clinical decision-making and the advancement of clinical practice. The faculty and staff collaborate closely with students to foster professional attitudes and enhance their problem-solving skills for providing optimal patient care.

  • Location: Mesa, AZ
  • Duration: 12 to 24 months
  • Accreditation: Commission on Accreditation of Athletic Training Education (CAATE)

How Long Does it Take to Become a Certified Athletic Trainer?

It takes six or more years to become a certified athletic trainer after graduating from high school.

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. A high school diploma or GED demonstrates dedication to completing a program and a minimum education level. Students who want to pursue a career in athletic training should focus on anatomy and physiology, science, math, and psychology classes. Additionally, students can volunteer in their high school athletics program to gain hands-on experience. 

Step 2: Earn a Bachelor’s Degree (Four Years)

Aspiring athletic trainers need to complete a bachelor’s degree in exercise science, kinesiology, sports medicine, or a related field. An undergraduate program provides students with foundational knowledge and practical skills essential for pursuing this career. 

Step 3: Complete Athletic Trainer Master’s (Two to Three Years) 

Since 2022, athletic trainers must complete a CAATE-accredited professional master’s degree or higher to be eligible for BOC 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 several institutions, including large Division 1 schools with 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 4: 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 that demonstrates competency in this field can help instill confidence in employers and clients. Further details about certification can be found below. 

Step 5: Obtain State Licensure (Timeline Varies)

Athletic trainers are required to be licensed in all states except California. All states requiring licensed athletic trainers accept the BOC certification exam as their examination requirement. 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, or 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. 

To be eligible to sit for the BOC exam, candidates must complete a Commission on Accreditation of Athletic Training Education (CAATE) accredited education program at the master’s level or higher. 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 an application fee
  • Submit a completed application, including a criminal conviction affidavit
  • Provide proof of current CPR certification 

How Much Do Athletic Trainers Make?

On average, athletic trainers earn $61,540 per year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2023). Wages vary based on place of employment, level of education achieved, and years of experience. The percentiles for wages are:

  • 10th percentile: $43,180
  • 25th percentile: $49,750
  • 50th percentile (median): $57,930
  • 75th percentile: $66,580
  • 90th percentile: $80,640

Athletic Trainer Career Alternatives

Here are some alternatives to a career as an athletic trainer: 

Become an Occupational Therapist

Occupational therapists assess individuals’ abilities and develop personalized treatment plans to help them regain, develop, or maintain skills for daily living. They work with people of all ages, focusing on rehabilitation, adaptation, and modification techniques. They also provide education, support mental health, and advocate for their clients’ rights and accessibility.

  • Typical Education: Master’s 
  • Licensing or Certifying Organization: American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA)

Become a Physical Therapist

Physical therapists promote mobility, function, and quality of life for their patients. They assess, diagnose, and treat individuals with various physical conditions or injuries. They use various techniques such as exercise, manual therapy, and modalities like heat or electrical stimulation to help reduce pain, improve movement, and restore strength and function. They also educate patients on injury prevention, provide rehabilitation after surgeries or accidents, and develop personalized treatment plans to meet their patient’s specific needs and goals.

  • Typical Education: Doctorate
  • Licensing or Certifying Organization: Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy (FSBPT)

Become a Nutritionist

Nutritionists specialize in nutrition and dietetics and provide guidance and support to individuals and communities. They assess dietary needs, create personalized meal plans, offer counseling on healthy eating habits, conduct educational programs, contribute to menu development, stay updated on research, and engage in community outreach. 

  • Typical Education: Bachelor’s
  • Licensing or Certifying Organization: Commission on Dietetic Registration
Kimmy Gustafson

Kimmy Gustafson

Writer

At HealthcareDegree.com, Kimmy Gustafson has delivered in-depth and insightful articles since 2019, aiding prospective students to navigate the complexities of choosing the right healthcare degree. Her recent work includes topics such as the ethics of gene editing and physician assistant’s fight for autonomy.

Kimmy has been a freelance writer for more than a decade, writing hundreds of articles on a wide variety of topics such as startups, nonprofits, healthcare, kiteboarding, the outdoors, and higher education. She is passionate about seeing the world and has traveled to over 27 countries. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Oregon. When not working, she can be found outdoors, parenting, kiteboarding, or cooking.

Related Articles

  • 26 April 2024

    Guide to the Best Pre-Vet Programs and Study Options

    All veterinarians must complete a doctor of veterinary medicine (DVM) degree at an accredited college of veterinary medicine, and entry into those programs is extremely competitive. Completing a pre-vet program is a common path.

  • 22 December 2023

    Healthcare Career Scholarship Guide for 2024

    High-quality education comes at a price. Fortunately for students in health-related careers, there are ample opportunities available for mitigating these financial burdens.

  • 17 November 2023

    Guide to Physician Assistant (PA) Specialties

    PAs can also specialize in various fields of medicine. Specialization allows PAs to focus on a specific demographic, condition, or type of care, allowing them to develop a refined skill set and extensive knowledge.

  • 22 September 2023

    Do Physician Assistants (PAs) Have Autonomous Practice Authority?

    Currently, PAs in the US practice in collaborative or supervisory relationships with a physician. This is intrinsic to this profession. Many states have been moving towards more autonomous and collaborative practice models.

  • 22 August 2023

    How Telehealth is Used in Physical Therapy

    Many times in life, a person might find themselves needing physical therapy (PT). PTs play a vital role in the treatment of patients with chronic conditions, illnesses, and injuries, as well as in preventative care and general wellness.

  • 13 April 2023

    Artificial Intelligence in Speech-Language Pathology – Expert Interview

    Combining crowdsourced data, machine learning algorithms, biofeedback, and gamification, AI applications have exciting potential in assisting speech-language pathologists (SLPs).

  • 31 March 2023

    Occupational Therapy & Mental Health – What to Know

    Occupational therapists are key members of multidisciplinary medical teams who work with individuals going through experiences like that of Turner. While their focus is on helping patients with injuries and disabilities improve their ability to complete everyday activities, they can also be a strong source of support.