When we watch championship games like the Super Bowl or the World Series, we see fantastic feats of athletic ability. We see the greatest competitors of our generation pushing themselves and their bodies to achieve more than ever thought possible.
But we don’t always see how they do it.
For every great athlete, there’s not only a coach to give direction, but there are also athletic trainers to keep them safe and healthy. No athlete can win a race or score a goal without the help of qualified athletic trainers.
Athletic trainers must have a thorough understanding of the human body and modern treatment options. They work with performers to treat injuries, design health regimens, provide stretching protocols, and more. Sometimes they work with major leagues and Olympians, and sometimes they help regular people in schools and health centers.
Although there’s a lot of fun and practical activity involved in being an athletic trainer, they need to have first-class training. That’s why the choice of school is so important. Students want to have both excellent teachers and opportunities for success.
All of the schools on this list meet those needs. Students in these programs gain knowledge under teachers with years of experience, but they then get to ply their trades in the school’s athletic department. Towards the end of their studies, students secure internships to improve the health of those in the community.
Here are our picks for 10 of the best athletic training colleges in the US.
Texas Christian University Harris College of Nursing & Health Professions (Fort Worth, TX)
Housed in the Department of Kinesiology, the athletic training program in Texas Christian University’s Harris College of Nursing & Health Professionals puts the students first. Combining classroom teaching with hands-on experience, the program gives students everything they need to work in the athletic field of their choice.
At the center of the program is the clinical experience component. Working one on one with an assigned preceptor, students apply their skills directly to athletes. The experience begins on campus, where students practice on college athletes, but they move on to interning at high schools and physician offices.
Thanks to this approach, the TCU athletic training program has an outstanding track record. Over the past three years, 88% of graduates passed their licensing examination on their first attempt. Even better, 96% of graduates have found employment in the field.
Ithaca College (Ithaca, NY)
Established in 1975, the athletic training education program at Ithaca College is one of the oldest and most respected in the nation. They earn this respect with a curriculum based on medical science.
The school’s 4 Pillars Plus curriculum follows the basic principles of the healthcare professions: humanitas (humanities), anotomia (anatomy), physiologia (physiology), and kinesis (movement). Every class taken by students underscores one of these principles. As a result, students leave the program with a thorough understanding of the human body.
As that description suggests, the athletic training program can be quite demanding. But Ithaca helps usher the best and brightest into the program with resources such as the Kent Scriber Fund (KSF).
Created in 2014, the KSF helps pay for extra-curricular programming and academic activities that fall outside the standard educational program. With these monies, students can explore their own interests in the field, thereby becoming more informed and inquisitive trainers.
California State University, Long Beach Department of Kinesiology (Long Beach, CA)
The youngest program on this list, California State University – Long Beach’s Department of Kinesiology will begin offering an athletic training MS in Fall 2022. The school is already accepting applications and has put together an impressive set of faculty and resources.
Faculty members include Dr. Sean P. Flanagan, who earned a Ph.D. in Biokinesiology (with an emphasis on Biomechanics) from the University of Southern California. Dr. Flanagan has several decades of experience in the field and holds certifications as an athletic trainer, a strength and conditioning specialist, and an exercise physiologist.
After earning her Ph.D. from the University of Southern California in 2015, Dr. Danielle N. Jarvis has gone on to become the director of CSU-Long Beach’s Laboratory for Evaluating Athletic & Aesthetic Performance (LEAAP). Drawing from her research on joint demands during jumping movements, Dr. Jarvis teaches classes in dance, biomechanics, and athletic training.
University of Georgia (Athens, GA)
A two-year program housed in the Mary Frances Early College of Education, the MS degree in athletic training prepares graduates for a wide range of careers. Students from the program go on to everything from working with professional athletes to careers in law enforcement to positions in performing arts schools.
The program begins with a curriculum grounded in scientific fundamentals. Students take courses in clinical anatomy, clinical evaluation, therapeutic innovations, and more. With this information, students gain the theoretical and medical training they need to work with patients.
Students begin working with patients during their clinical education semesters. Under the supervision of faculty partners, students first apply their skills to U of Georgia athletes. But they soon move on to internships that relate to their larger career goals, in high schools, physicians’ offices, and similar businesses.
University of Hawaii at Manoa (Manoa, HI)
At the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, students learn how to heal the human body in one of the most beautiful places on Earth. A tier-one research school, U Hawaiʻi combines rigorous academic research with the traditions of island culture.
That culture emphasizes the concept of mālama, the Hawaiian word for “care and protection.” With this perspective, athletic trainers are not just professionals, but caretakers who enrich the lives of those they serve. The program seeks to interact with the environment and history of the people to find new ways of treating patients.
This concept of mālama is embodied by the school’s faculty members. One such example is Associate Professor Erin E. Centeio, who was recently awarded a $2.85 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to institute health programs for Hawaiian children.
University of Connecticut Department of Kinesiology (Storrs, CT)
Like most of the schools on this list, the department of kinesiology at the University of Connecticut offers an MS in athletic training. This two-year degree builds on training students received during their undergraduate studies. However, U Conn is in the process of creating an accelerated program, which allows students to get their BS and MS in athletic training in only five years.
No matter which track they choose, students benefit from U Conn’s state-of-the-art resources. The program works in collaboration with the school’s vaunted athletic program, as well as faculty across departments. Bringing together the subjects of physical therapy, exercise science, and athletic training, U Conn takes a holistic approach to athletic care.
As a tier-one research institution, U Conn strives to advance the field. Named after the Minnesota Vikings player who passed away from heatstroke, the Korey Stringer Institute works to find new cures to athletes’ ailments.
With cutting-edge technology and a network of leading scholars, the Sports Optimization and Rehabilitation (SOAR) lab advances innovative techniques for improving health and wellness.
University of Central Florida School of Kinesiology and Physical Therapy (Orlando, FL)
As part of the University of Central Florida’s College of Health Professions and Sciences, the School of Kinesiology and Physical Therapy boasts an impressive set of clinical sites. Students prepare to enter the careers of their choice by gaining hands-on experience working everywhere, from local high schools to community hospitals to the Kennedy Space Center.
As this variety of options demonstrates, UCF’s athletic training program emphasizes student choice. The program seeks to empower students to follow their interests and to take their training to the places where they are most passionate.
The success of this student-centered approach is apparent in the achievements of UCF graduates. In 2020, students in the athletic training program partnered with judo schools in Japan to train learners in therapy approaches. As this example demonstrates, UCF students improve the health of people across the globe.
Penn State University College of Health and Human Development (University Park, PA)
Thanks to its placement in the College of Health and Human Development, Penn State University’s athletic training program allows students to work with cutting-edge technology.
Penn State’s Biomechanics Laboratory advances our understanding of the biomechanical principles governing motor functions and neurology. With the technology housed within the lab, researchers and students examine the properties of muscle movements and skeletal structures, allowing them to better care for athletes.
Devoted to studying the relationship between disease and physiology, the Noll Laboratory finds innovative physical activities to combat the health effects of inactivity. Working alongside experienced faculty researchers, students discover the best ways to help athletes keep moving and stay healthy.
With resources such as these, students not only gain the basic knowledge they need to ply their trade, but also push the health sciences into the next generation.
University of Michigan School of Kinesiology (Ann Arbor, MI)
The University of Michigan has long had one of the country’s most impressive athletic programs. It’s no surprise that the school also boasts an excellent athletic training program, training students to help care for their champion athletes.
At the center of the program is U of M’s research initiatives. With labs devoted to everything from brain behavior to musculoskeletal biomechanics, students access the latest information about how bodies work. With this knowledge, they can more precisely and effectively cure athletes’ bodies.
But rather than rest on its reputation, U of M strives to create a student-centered program. With a highly selective admission rate, the school keeps its classes small, resulting in a student-to-faculty ratio of 18:1. Working closely with experienced faculty members, students gain the techniques and hands-on training to match the school’s advanced research.
Florida State University College of Health and Human Sciences (Tallahassee, FL)
The athletic training MS degree from Florida State University is a top-tier program thanks to its rigor and focus. Possibly the most exclusive program on this list, FSU accepts only the most promising and focused students. With an exceptional group of students to work with, FSU offers a challenging program that demands the best of its learners.
FSU’s commitment to excellence is evident in the successes of its faculty. Department chair Michele Garber has over 25 years of athletic training experience and has won numerous awards for teaching. She seeks to help students understand the relationship between athletic performance and health status.
Professor Lynn Panton has published scholarly studies in the areas of exercise training and its relationship to muscular strength and body composition. Her work on the effects of resistance training in women breast cancer survivors opens up new ways of thinking about athletic training.
With such exceptional faculty working with outstanding students, it’s easy to see why FSU is training the best athletic trainers in the country.