Degree Change Frequently Asked Questions

The AT Strategic Alliance recently released an official statement about the professional degree for athletic training. The following are some common questions and answers related to the statement.

Note: Find more resources related to the degree change, including videos and helpful tips for AT educators, at Higher Education Resources.


Who made the decision to change the degree level?

The Athletic Training Strategic Alliance is made up of the BOC, CAATE, NATA and the NATA Research & Education Foundation. The NATA boards and CAATE boards, with the full support of the BOC and NATA Foundation boards, unanimously approved this change.


Current ATs

I’m a certified/licensed AT. How does the degree change impact me?

It does not have a direct impact on your certificate/license. It does have an impact on your profession and its longevity, as the strategic alliance believes that the changing nature of health care and an increased emphasis on inter-professional practice will make the master’s level of education very important to the profession’s future.

I’m a certified/licensed AT. I have a bachelor’s degree. Do I have to go back to school to get a master’s?

No. Current athletic trainers will not need to earn a master’s degree to satisfy this new standard. This change in degree level will affect future athletic training students. It will take no less than seven years for the change to occur, so the first students who will be impacted are not yet in high school.


AT Education

I'm in an accredited bachelor's program now. Will I need to also obtain a master's degree before I can be eligible for the exam?

Current students enrolled in a program will not have to obtain a master's degree to be eligible for the exam. When the CAATE establishes the implementation date, future students will know how to select their institutions to ensure they meet the requirements.

Doesn’t this degree change increase student debt?

The extra one to two years of school does mean debt will increase; however, when you compare ATs who have master’s degrees with those who don’t, ATs with master’s have more longevity in the profession and higher rates of full time employment, which often corresponds to increased salaries. Even though the debt is higher, having a master’s could help contribute to increased salary, thus reducing student debt at a quicker rate.

Will the graduate assistant model go away?

Yes. About a quarter of the jobs posted through the NATA Career Center are positions such as graduate assistantships or  internships. More investigation is being conducted to determine how to best change this employment model. The NATA Executive Committee for Education has taken on that task and will be addressing it over the next year, long before the transition takes place.

What is the timeline for implementation of the master’s degree requirement for Professional Programs? (Per the CAATE )

The Standards for Accreditation of Professional Athletic Training Programs will be changed to include a requirement that professional programs be at the master’s degree with a specific implementation deadline of at least 7 years. A decision of this magnitude requires significant discussion on the implementation details; the CAATE anticipates acting on the implementation deadline at the August 2015 meeting.


The Profession

Will changing the degree level increase salaries?

There is data to prove athletic trainers with a master’s degree earn more than those with a bachelors; however, as part of the review process a health care economist conducted a study specific to athletic training education. The research shows degree level alone is not a strong indicator of salary increase. But, years of full time employment plus an advanced degree can lead to  an increased salary. In addition,  ATs who have a master’s are more likely to stay in the profession and again that is one of the components that lead to increased salary. 

How will the degree change impact diversity retention in the profession?

It was found that greater diversity exists at the graduate level of athletic training programs than it does at the undergraduate level. In addition, minorities represent a high population of student athletes. Therefore, the degree level change may also open up the opportunity to become an athletic trainer for more minority students, as the athletes can complete their AT coursework once their undergraduate playing days are completed.

The degree change might not have an influence on the reputation of athletic trainers so why do it?

The perception of Program Directors, who oversee programs at the master’s level is that students at the graduate level show an increase in maturity, commitment to the profession and benefit from a higher quality of clinical experience. This will aid the public’s perception of athletic training and ensure proper professional alignment with other health care professions. It’s also been shown that the retention of ATs who have a master’s is better than those who don’t. This longevity also impacts reputation.


How will the degree change impact reimbursement?

The health care economist study found that the degree level had almost nothing to do with the reimbursement process. With a lack of recognition of athletic training, health care facilities assume insurers will not reimburse and choose to not attempt billing. However, it is believed that changing the professional degree to the master’s level will heighten the perception of the athletic training profession and could aid in the reimbursement process.



Some believe the decision to change the degree level was pre-determined even before the presentations were made at national, district and state meetings  and other research into the change started. Is that true?

A considerable amount of time and resources went into making this decision. The strategic alliance investigated everything possible to determine which outcome was in the profession’s best interest. This was not investigated and decided by one person or entity. The research included program director focus groups, a health care economist study focused on athletic training education, expert opinion from CAATE Commission physician and administrative members, CAATE’s call for open comments and numerous open-discussion sessions at state, district and national meetings, as well as the Professional Degree in Athletic Training White Paper.


Has enough evidence been gathered to support a decision on a degree change?

The strategic alliance has been investigating this transition for the past 2.5 years. Program director focus groups, a health care economist study focused on athletic training education, expert opinion from CAATE Commission physician and administrative members, CAATE’s call for open comments and numerous open-discussion sessions at state, district and national meetings, and the Professional Degree in Athletic Training White Paper were all used to help reach this decision. It would have actually been easier to succumb to analysis by paralysis and to continue to gather evidence over the next 7 – 10 years. However, that could halt the profession’s progress significantly when the degree change is important to cementing our role in the health care team.  


What’s Next

I’m an educator. How will I learn more about the transition as we move forward?

Within the next few weeks a new strategic alliance website will be launched at This site will allow you to submit questions, it will include a link to FAQs and it is where the strategic alliance partners will update and provide additional information as it becomes available. In addition, CAATE and NATA will often update on their websites as we move through the transition process. CAATE will provide information on the standard change and the transition. NATA will provide tools and best practices to help with the transition. It could be at times that there is no news. This is a long process as the transition will take no less than seven years so there will be times when there is nothing new to report, but work will be happening consistently behind the scenes.