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Sunday, May 1, 2016
Choosing a College
When choosing a college to attend, what questions would be good to ask about their Athletic Training program.
You ask a very important question because there are so many programs to choose from! Currently, there are 367 accredited athletic training education programs in the United States. All accredited programs meet a rigorous set of program standards established by the Commission on Accreditation of Athletic Training Education (http://caate.occutrain.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/CAATE-Post-Professional-Residency-Standards-2012.pdf) and have the same core mission of producing graduates who are prepared to pass the Board of Certification's exam and earn the ATC credential. With that said, different programs have very different ways that they meet this mission with very different audiences that they cater to.
The easiest way to organize the long list of programs is by the degree that they offer. While they all prepare students to earn their ATC credential, most programs (344) offer a bachelor's degree while a small number (23) offer a masters degree. The bachelor’s degree programs are the most common route to the ATC credential and make the most sense for the majority of students. The "entry level" masters programs are designed for students who have already earned a bachelor’s degree in another field of study. They are often a good choice for students who discover their interest in athletic training while already in college or who are varsity athletes in college and are unable to complete the clinical demands of athletic training concurrently with their athletic team practices and games.
Programs can further be divided by the kinds of schools where they are offered. Interestingly, most athletic training education programs are offered at smaller universities and only a small number of truly "big schools" offer athletic training. School size IS NOT an indicator of quality, but it often does tell you about personality. When choosing a school, choose one that fits what you need, not what others tell you is a good school. If you are independent, self-reliant, flexible and seeking diverse opportunities then maybe a large school is a good choice. If you are more comfortable out of the spotlight, or with smaller numbers of peers and patients with less pressure or if need more personal attention and hand-on guidance, then maybe a smaller, more intimate school is the right choice. I often tell prospective students that if they want someone to hold their hand and guide them along the path to their future as a professional, then a smaller school is a wonderful choice. If they don't want their hand held, but instead want the door held open to more diverse and impactful opportunities, then a big school might fit the bill. The truth is that you can get to anywhere from either type of program, but choosing the one that is the best "personality fit" for you will help you to be happy while on the path to your future.
As for questions to ask:
There is no national ranking of programs to guide you. Therefore, you need to gauge both the QUALITY and the FIT of the school you visit. You CAN'T do this accurately from a website. You REALLY should plan to visit the schools on your final list and talk directly to someone from the program. If the program faculties don’t meet with prospective students, then that tells you something useful. My top 5 things to ask about are...
1. How do their graduates' performance on the certification exam. The statistic you want is their first-attempt passing rate (not overall passing rate). The most recently distributed exam data indicate a national average of around 43% of candidates passing on their first attempt. Most years the range is closer to 50 - 60%. There are lots of programs who routinely have passing rates above 80%.
2. What are the kinds of students who succeed in the program and the characteristics of those who don't. Your goal here is to learn about the feel, culture and personality of the program. Who does the program self-identify as their targeted student demographic? For example, our program at Ohio State caters to high-ability students who want "big-time" opportunities and who want a launching pad to bigger opportunities as a professional. My students get personalized attention, but that is not their primary need or want. Other programs cater more to the students who want and need lots of personalized attention, but are not necessarily looking for the fast paced or high pressure world that my students seek.
3. What are the program attrition rates? (drop-outs) How many students start as pre-AT majors? How many apply for program admission and how many are accepted. Of those who start the professional phase, how many graduate from the AT program? ALL programs lose students who change majors or leave school for various reasons unrelated to program quality. Therefore, attrition by itself doesn't mean much. However, in my experience, the VAST majority of these students who leave an AT program change majors before they actually start the program or in the first semester once they start the program. If the program is losing seniors or has a lot (>10-15%) of attrition of students after they have begun the professional part of the program, then you need to ask yourself why.
4. .Ask about the number of students the program graduates annually and about program placements after graduation. AT programs do not generally place their students into jobs directly, so don't expect the university to find you a job. However, you should take a look at where the programs graduates go. Most students (~2/3) graduating from bachelors degree programs go directly to graduate school. How many received a graduate assistantship to do so? Where are their graduates working 5 years after graduation?
5. Ask about what your experience will be like. What will the course load be? When do you get to start supervised clinical care and how do the rotations work? What are the expectations about clinical hours and your out-of-class time commitment? Do the students travel with the athletics teams? Is there a student club for AT students? Most school has students start clinicals in the sophomore or junior year and very few start you with patients when you are a freshman. You should expect a big time commitment that includes somewhere around 15 - 20 hours in the classroom in addition to a similar amount of time in supervised clinical practice each week. Being an AT major really is a full-time experience.
Good luck in finding your school. Pick the one that is the right fit over the one that has the big reputation.
Mark A Merrick, PhD, ATC
School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences
The Ohio State University