Jan 29, 2015
School vs. Work

Planning your next step after graduation

By Dr. Brian Toy

Brian Toy, PhD, ATC, is an Associate Professor at the University of Southern Maine, where he works as the Director of Sports Medicine and Director of the Athletic Training Education Program.

Upon nearing the completion of their undergraduate athletic training education, many students struggle to determine the best course of action to take upon graduation: attend graduate school or enter the work world. Many factors should be considered, including knowing your goals.

Determine the level of education required to work in your desired setting. Board certified athletic trainers are employed in a variety of venues, and the educational requirements to find employment within these work settings may differ. For example, at a college or university, in addition to providing health care services to student-athletes, the athletic trainer is usually required to teach academic courses. Teaching responsibilities range from being involved in an accredited athletic training education program to teaching physical education activity courses. In most cases, the teaching dictates that an applicant already have a master’s degree.

Strategize for getting hired. Although it may be necessary to obtain a master’s degree to become employed at the college level, attending graduate school may not be the best strategy for landing a job in other work settings. If, for example, you begin employment at the secondary school level without a master’s degree, your salary will most likely start out lower, making you a more attractive hire than an applicant with a master’s degree who would require a higher starting salary.

Learn as much as you can about the job market at your preferred employment setting. Students should study job trends in the profession, and new graduates should network with athletic trainers already working within their chosen setting. For example, although many students dream of becoming an athletic trainer for a professional sports team, the paucity of available positions in these settings makes employment in these ranks unlikely.

Anyone entering the job market should also be aware of the competition. According to the National Athletic Trainers’ Association, 70 percent of all certified athletic trainers have at least a master’s degree. Finding out what percentage in your desired setting hold the advanced degree is important.

Consider using a graduate degree to enhance knowledge of different settings. Although athletic training accreditation guidelines assure that all students receive similar classroom education, undergraduates attending different institutions are often exposed to varying clinical experiences. For example, students at an NCAA Division I college often only obtain clinical experiences within that setting. Even students attending the same institution may have different clinical experiences—some students may primarily interact with football student-athletes while their peers at the same institution concentrate on treating the ice hockey team. In each of these cases, seeking a graduate degree may help the aspiring professional pursue clinical experiences not obtained during undergraduate training.

Understand graduate assistantships. Obtaining a graduate assistantship is an excellent way to gain experience and refine your athletic training skills while completing the requirements for a master’s degree. In addition, this experience enables you to network among a wider group of athletic trainers than is possible during the undergraduate experience.

If funded through the athletics department, graduate assistants can usually pursue any graduate program sponsored by the institution. However, assistantships offered through an academic department may require that the graduate student pursue a program of study within that department’s offerings. Investigate the terms of the assistantship to ensure that accepting a position will allow you to pursue the academic program you desire.

Assess your financial situation. If you are like most undergraduate students, you will be graduating with some debt, usually in the form of government or bank loans. Upon graduation, and after a short deferment period, you will be required to start payment on these loans. As you try to decide between entering the profession or continuing your education, you should determine your ability to maintain your desired lifestyle while paying these and any other debts.

Forgoing entrance into the work force by attending graduate school will usually allow you to place educational loans in deferment for the duration of your education. However, it is important to determine whether interest on loans placed in deferment will accumulate during the duration of deferment.

Determining the right course after graduation can be challenging. To make an educated choice, carefully weigh all your options and do as much research as needed.

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