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How to Become an Athletic Trainer

Athletic trainers need at least a bachelor’s degree, although both bachelor’s and master’s degrees are common. In most states, athletic trainers need a license or certification; requirements vary by state.


For most jobs, athletic trainers need a bachelor's degree in athletic training from an accredited college or university; however, master’s degrees are also common. The Commission on Accreditation of Athletic Training Education (CAATE) accredits most programs. All programs have both classroom and clinical components. Courses include science and health-related courses, such as anatomy, physiology, nutrition, and biomechanics.

Athletic trainers may need a higher degree to be eligible for some positions, especially trainers in colleges and universities, or to increase their advancement opportunities.

High school students interested in athletic trainer programs should take courses in anatomy, physiology, and physics.

Important Qualities

Applied knowledge. Athletic trainers need to be able to retain a wide range of medical knowledge. They must evaluate patients’ symptoms, consult with other healthcare professionals, and recommend and administer appropriate treatments.

Decision-making skills. Athletic trainers must be able to make quick de­cisions that could affect the health or career of their clients.

Detail oriented. Athletic trainers must be able to record detailed, accurate progress and ensure that patients are receiving the appropriate treatments.

Interpersonal skills. Athletic trainers must have strong interpersonal skills and be able to manage sometimes stressful situations. They must be able to communicate well with others, including physicians, athletes, coaches, and parents.


Nearly all states require athletic trainers to be certified. The independent Board of Certification, Inc. (BOC) offers the standard certification examination that most states use for licensure. Certification requires completing the BOC exam, adhering to the BOC Standards of Practice and Disciplinary Process, and taking continuing education courses. Athletic trainers must graduate from a CAATE-accredited program before taking the BOC exam.


In most states, athletic trainers must be licensed; requirements vary by state. Requirements in most states include graduating from an accredited athletic training program and passing the BOC exam or a separate state exam. For specific information on requirements, contact the local state regulatory agency.

In school settings, athletic trainers may take on some teaching responsibilities and may need a teaching certificate or license.


Assistant athletic trainers may become head athletic trainers, ath­letic directors, or physician, hospital, or clinic practice adminis­trators, where they assume a management role. Some athletic trainers move into sales and marketing positions, using their expertise to sell medical and athletic equipment.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition